AFSA Announces Next Gen Initiative With SkillsUSA
One of the greatest challenges our industry faces today is the sustainability of our workforce. As more and more of our experienced employees are retiring, contractors and suppliers across all regions are struggling to find quality young tradesmen, drafters, project managers, estimators, salesmen and engineers who will carry their company’s legacy into the future. So how can we continue to recruit and retain the right, quality and talented individuals into our companies? This has been one of the key questions that the American Fire Sprinkler Association’s (AFSA) Next Generation (Next Gen) workgroup has been attempting to answer.
The solution, we feel to this problem, is to actively seek out opportunities which raise up young career-ready professionals. This can be accomplished both from a technical standpoint, but also by focusing on honing the individual’s personal and employable skills that are needed to fill today’s growing skills gap. In January at its quarterly meeting, the AFSA Board of Directors approved the Next Gen initiative with SkillsUSA, a nonprofit organization endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education, to attend its National Championship and TECHSPO.
The foundation of the SkillsUSA program emphasizes integrity, work ethic, professionalism, communication, teamwork and computer and technology literacy, along with job-specific technical skills. The students who are involved in the SkillsUSA program are the type of employees that our industry needs to be seeking out.
Tim Lawrence, SkillsUSA executive director, said, “We are building well-rounded employees who are good citizens and leaders – not just technically skilled workers. Our students can enter the workforce and be productive and successful.”
Thus, it is with great excitement that I announce for the first time since the inception of SkillsUSA Championship in 1967, that the fire sprinkler industry will be represented as an exhibitor by members of AFSA’s Next Gen workgroup. The 2016 National SkillsUSA Conference is the largest hands-on skill competition in the world. It has over 130 different trades, technical, and skilled service occupation contests. Today in high schools and colleges across the country, more than 300,000 member students and advisors organized into more than 18,000 local chapters and 53 state and territorial associations are taking advantage of the skill development and resume opportunities that SkillsUSA offers. In Louisville, Kentucky June 21-23 this year, an estimated 6,500 technical students, teachers, school administrators, trade professionals, and hundreds of business partners will descend on Louisville.
All the students in attendance will be individuals who have already taken first-place honors from his or her state at both the high school and college levels. They will be participating in the skill competition championships, the trade show, and career workshops, as well as professional networking. Next Gen representatives will be there to educate them on the fire sprinkler trade, both from a contractor and supplier perspective, as well as talk about potential scholarship opportunities through AFSA. We believe that the opportunity to reach so many young people across multiple demographics and across the United States at one time and in one location is invaluable. With so many of these young adults on the precipice of entering the workforce, we believe introducing them to our industry and a career path, that they may have previously known nothing about, is paramount.
During the conference and TECHSPO, AFSA’s Next Gen group will be an exhibitor and host a workshop for students and teachers alike and introduce them to what a career in the fire protection industry could be. We will provide them with information on AFSA’s apprenticeship curriculum, scholarship opportunities, and discuss pathways for growth within the industry. We will explore opportunities in the field and office for both contractors and suppliers.
Currently, there are no skill competitions or curricula in place for fire sprinklers at the SkillsUSA Conference, which would allow AFSA to reach students who had perhaps been interested in other technical disciplines to learn how their skills could be applied in a whole new way. The Next Gen workgroup hopes that exposure to our exhibit booth and workshop will serve as a vehicle for recruitment of future valued employees for all of our AFSA members, contractors and suppliers alike.
Ultimately through AFSA’s involvement with SkillsUSA, Next Gen believes we can create an awareness of the fire sprinkler industry and use this conference as a spring board to build a healthy pipeline of future hires into the fire protection trade, all the while continuing to bridge the generational gap by infusing our industry with the most talented and motivated young professionals our great country has to offer. For more information or to get involved, visit SkillsUSA.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Luke Gaeta is the chief estimator for Industrial and Special Hazards for Rapid Fire Protection, Inc. and AdTech Alarm and Security. He is based out of its corporate office in Rapid City, South Dakota, with offices in Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming and Utah. Gaeta is a member of the AFSA’s Next Generation group. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 605-348-2342.
EDITOR’S NOTE: AFSA’s Next Generation (Next Gen) Group offers networking and educational events and provides resources to help the next generation of leaders excel within our industry and compliments AFSA chapters by providing them with resources to engage their young professional members. For more information, visit firesprinkler.org/nextgen.