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We’re a big fan of learning to work with tools while young, and so is Irwin. Normally when we get press releases about tool companies and cars, they tell us about this motocross rider or that well-known race team that they are now sponsoring. In truth it has nothing to do with tools and everything to do with branding. Branding doesn’t build anything other than bottom lines — but Skills USA is a different story.

In partnership with Irwin, Skills USA puts hundreds of thousands of kids looking to go into technical lines of work together with hands-on training with the tools of their future craft. It also teaches young people ethics in the work place — how to work hard and how to solve problems while doing so.

Of course it’d be easy to take pot shots with comments about how American jobs won’t be there for them when they’re ready to join the workforce, or talk about the state of the economy and how we should all “Buy American” and stop sending jobs to China, and so on. In the end, that kind of hot air really doesn’t mean much to these kids who need to learn how to work with tools and start a career. They need guidance, not cynicism.

What we find impressive is that these folks are out there actually instilling the next generation of workers with solid trade skills and a sense of ethics and responsibility. That’s worth several truckloads of habitual whining from naysayers in our book.

Skills USA [Website]
Skills USA Creed
Skills USA Day 2: Jeff Hammond [YouTube]


14 Responses to Irwin and Skills USA

  1. PutnamEco says:

    Training is always good, though what is most in demand now and for the near foreseeable future seems to be renovations and repairs, I’m not seeing a lot of training in this area.
    It is my belief that apprenticeships are one of the best methods of gaining experience. I give the trade unions a lot of credit for assuring themselves competent members.

    With all the schools and training centers around these days, I have to wonder if learning how to train people may be a better career choice.
    I have been paying attention to Job Corps and Mike Rowe Works, for highly publicized programs.
    If I were just starting out I think I would enroll in the North Bennett Street School preservation carpentry course.

  2. Brau says:

    @ PutnamEco

    Good point.
    Over the years, my best installers were the ones who had mastered all sorts of tricks to hide/minimize/repair damage done during the job. It took years of mistakes to amass this knowledge. A course might have saved a lot of grief and lost man-hours. On that note, unlike in years past, today I find the internet incredibly valuable for finding novel ways to fix things.

    It would be interesting to see how many people could repair torn wallpaper, blend finishes to hide scuffs, make a normal sheet of plywood look like Wainscot, repair irreplaceable chairs, repair a 1″ auger hole drilled through Parquet flooring, or a myriad of “tasks’ I learned working in hotel maintenance, construction, and retro-fitting homes.

  3. Joe says:

    About the cynicism (and one of my coworkers informed me that I am way too cynical for my age), I actually think its misplaced here. How many master tradesmen are aging and planning on retiring in the near future? My understanding is that it is a fairly large number, and they will need to be replaced.

    rant begin…

    I think that we have created a dearth of skilled tradesmen with all of the focus that is placed on going to college. When I was in high school there was very little focus on going into the skilled trades, there are vocational programs, but they were tiny compared to the college prep focus of the school. People who would be much better served learning a skilled trade were pushed to attend college, only to waste thousands of dollars enrolling with an undeclared major and drop out because it just wasn’t for them.

    I will say that I did go to college (with a declared major, that I completed as part of a double major) so maybe I am just clueless about some of this stuff.

    Also, its hard to have someone in China build a house in America… but we will probably figure that out soon.

  4. PutnamEco says:

    Also, its hard to have someone in China build a house in America… but we will probably figure that out soon.
    Panelized homes have been around for a while, I’ve seen interest in them growing for years. Really doesn’t require much skilled labor to install/build either. Wait until some one like Ikea starts offering flat pack homes….

  5. Coach James says:

    There would be even more technical jobs for these kids if Irwin didn’t buy American companies then ship all the manufacturing to China.

  6. JKB says:

    Well, they need to start further back in the skill sets. That is, all kids, of all persuasions need exposure to tool skills. And that means hand tools. Then later on those of a mind will be better prepared to decide to pursue more vocational training. Those who attend college for useful knowledge, i.e., engineering and science, will have a better understanding of what it takes to turn the their ideas into reality. Those into the more virtual knowledge, i.e., liberal arts, will have a clue what the physical descriptions in their classical texts required. Earlier generations got the basic tool skills being around dads, uncles and grandfathers doing repairs around the house. That is mostly gone now with cash replacing the screwdriver on how your college grad gets things done more and more.

    Not only would tool skills help in managing an adult life with its many and frequent repairs, but such training would integrate the book learning into the only way in which such learning can touch human life, through the useful arts produced by the hand.

  7. bigalexe says:

    I am a former SkillsUSA competitor (’05 & ’06). I competed in Automotive Mechanics and also did Ford/AAA. Now I am in school for Mechanical Engineering Tech and spend alot of time teaching the other students how to use basic tools, and teaching basic shop safety and by other students I mean freshmen all the way up through Masters. I spend time teaching them because when I see something dangerous being done in a shop and close enough to me I feel it might endanger myself then I go do something!

    SkillsUSA meant I spent many many many extra hours in the auto shop outside of class time and got much more out of my courses in mechanics than I would have otherwise without something to make me work harder. The students going and competing in these competitions I think are not only valuable to their specific trade but all the other trades & jobs that are tangentially connected to what they are doing. Such as a Machinist student that becomes an Industrial Engineer.

  8. Kyle says:

    I am 15 and my dad teaches Auto Body repair. I have seen several of his students go though Skills USA and I will also be going though SkillsUSA in the future

  9. Chris says:

    Wow Coach, only took 4 Comments before you had to knock them!
    Instead of complaining about IRWIN why don’t you complain about the companies you buy your stuff from, they are the ones drive companies like IRWIN and the other guys to go overseas.
    Sure there are companies like ChannelLock that are still State side, good for them, but they are few and far between.

    I’d love to walk through your house and see where your TV is made, and your microwave, and your clothes iron, you computer, your iPod, your kids toys, everything.

  10. Dave P says:

    I went to Nationals in ’97. During high school I was in college prep, took AP classes, all that. But I remember going to vo-tech high schools to compete in SkillsUSA (or VICA as it was called then) events, and I was always totally fascinated by the machining and welding classrooms. I felt like that was where I was supposed to be. But I bought into the crap about needing to go to college, so I graduated college prep, went to Georgia Tech, and spent the next 11 years hating my job(s). Finally I remembered my dream, quit everything, and went to a Vo-tech community college, where I got a machining diploma. I make half the money I used to, but I finally am doing what I feel like I was put here to do.

    It’s been my experience that the ratio of genuinely smart people to dumbasses is waaaay higher in vo-tech programs than it is in traditional high schools.

  11. PutnamEco says:

    Re: Foreign Manufacture

    We are our own worst enemies, These companies are only giving “us” what “we” want. As long as we continue to look for the lowest prices we will keep seeing these manufacturers looking for ways of offering it. It will now take a long time to change this around, if we even can, which I doubt. To many short sighted people not willing to consider the consequences of their actions, and to many greedy people willing to exploit them. There are a lot of hidden costs to everything we consume, both societal and ecological. Unless we as a society take in to account these hidden costs, I fear it is just a matter of time before the U.S. becomes just another banana republic.

    FYI “The Story of Stuff” and “RSA Animate – 21st century enlightenment”

  12. Tony says:

    @Joe – Also, its hard to have someone in China build a house in America… but we will probably figure that out soon.

    Actually, no – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/business/global/26bridge.html?pagewanted=all

  13. paganjoe says:

    Our local High School (the one my kids attend)have classes that combine math with building, automotive, electronics shops- the students spend half of class in a desk and the other half applying knowledge with tools in hand. The kids build for Habitat, convert vehicles to all electric, compete in Robotics… I go out of my way to watch the progress on their houses and cabins etc. College is a great place to gain a larger world view and it doesn’t mean you can’t work with your hands. Many of my soldiers (before there was a war)worked with their hands while earning college degrees. There is hope for American Can DO! we just need to be involved and engaged in the priorities our communities and our households set.

    • PutnamEco says:

      paganjoe says:There is hope for American Can DO!

      The only problem I see with that is that we as a people don’t have the time or desire to get involved.There are many excellent programs out there but they seldom seem to find any traction in any but the most affluent communities.
      It would seem to me that we are more focused on helping out the poor billionaire bankers, and worrying about terrorist boogeymen when what we need to be focused on is a complete paradigm shift towards trickle up economics.

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