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Now There's a National 'Signing Day' for Career Programs

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Today is the first nationwide celebration designed to celebrate teenagers' decisions to pursue careers in the skilled trades.

Students who go into the trades—even new-age career-tech fields like cyber security or robotics—haven't gotten the chorus of national support that rains down on students who decide to attend—or play football for—big-name universities.

For high school athletes, there are much-publicized "national signing days," which honor the day they formally pledge to play for a particular university. For college-bound students, there are "college signing days," which commemorate the spring college-decision ritual, and got an even higher profile when Michelle Obama helped publicize them as first lady.

But no large-scale recognitions like those have existed for students who are starting new jobs, training programs, or apprenticeships right after high school. SkillsUSA, a nonprofit that works with industry and schools to build career-oriented programs and job pipelines, teamed up with Klein Tools, an Illinois-based toolmaker, to create a "National Signing Day" for those students.

On Wednesday, in ceremonies at 300 schools, students will sign on the dotted line to accept jobs, or begin apprenticeships or training programs, or simply sign a letter of intent saying they're aiming for the skilled trades. Facebook will carry livestreams from five of the events.

"No one really seems to know what we do in the skilled trades," said Ethan Harrison, an 18-year-old from Blackfoot, Idaho, who was to sign a letter of intent Wednesday to pursue a career in cabinetmaking.

Ethan_Harrison_worldskillsUSA.PNG"The trades have a problem: that they're not valued the same as a four-year education," Harrison said. "So having a national signing day shows that they're equal to signing for any kind of sport or college."

The first national signing day will focus on a subset of the skilled trades: building trades and renovations, residential wiring, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning. Initiative leaders hope to expand the event to include more trades in the future, said Greg Palese, Klein Tools' vice president for marketing.

For Harrison—and a growing number of U.S. high school students—going into the skilled trades doesn't exclude college. Harrison's plan is to earn a bachelor's degree in business so he can open his own shop, where he'll make and sell artisanal, handcrafted furniture. 

But first he's got a big competition to prepare for. He's in Madison, Wis., refining his skills for the biennial WorldSkills Competition. In August, Harrison and 25 other young Americans will go to Kazan, Russia, each of them representing the United States in a skilled trade, from bricklaying to cyber security.They'll vie for the top titles against 1,600 competitors from 76 countries.

Photo: SkillsUSA

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