Make the Time for Partnerships: For SkillsUSA, Business Relationships are a Source of Support

SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit organization that serves students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical, and skilled service occupations. Eric Gearhart, direct of research and foundation relations for SkillsUSA, explains that industry partnerships are a key source of support for the organization and its 300,000 student members. He provides advice on making the most of these valuable relationships.

How can educators and students build relationships and gain support from organizations and businesses?

The first rule for anyone seeking to fund raise is to “Know Thyself.” What is the need to be addressed, and what resources will it require? What outcomes will those resources produce, and what is reportable to your donor? Soft, amorphous asks that only say, “We hope you’ll support our worthy cause,” will almost always be met with disappointment. 

Business partnerships are a negotiation best conducted face-to-face. We live in an age of strategic corporate philanthropy, meaning your prospect will be looking for some direct or indirect benefit to their business interests. So, don’t waste time chasing prospects that have no relationship to your mission, unless you have some inside link to the decision maker. There’s lots of public information available on the Web about companies’ giving guidelines and histories. 

Both in the cultivation and stewardship phases, find ways to engage your partners in the delivery of your mission. The more your partners rub elbows with your staff and the people your organization serves, the more you’ll fuse the emotional reason for giving to the business logic of giving. 

What are some ways that leaders in business and industry provide support for SkillsUSA programs? 

The local chapters of SkillsUSA often need financial support for materials, service projects, and to send students to SkillsUSA leadership training and competition conferences. Volunteers from business and industry are needed to serve on program advisory boards, to mentor students, and to serve as competition designers, managers, and judges. In-kind support includes donations and loans of up-to-date equipment. Another important engagement is for local business representatives to speak to school boards and civic organizations about the importance of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs in their locality when school budgets are being considered. CTE students tend to work in the communities they were raised and educated, thus contributing to the profitability of local companies and to the community tax base. 

How are relationships between SkillsUSA and its partners mutually beneficial?

SkillsUSA students want jobs in the skilled workforce; SkillsUSA partner companies need to hire prepared graduates who will bring both technical skills and employability skills to the job site. One of the chief distinctions of SkillsUSA is the integration of industrial know-how with the pedagogy of the SkillsUSA classroom and lab accomplished through our business partnerships, activities, and competitions. In a time when the United States faces a skills gap and global competition for workforce talent, there has never been a better time to be young and skilled. 

In 2013, more than 16,000 teachers and school administrators served as professional SkillsUSA members and advisors. More than 1,100 business, industry, and labor sponsors actively support SkillsUSA at the national level through financial aid, in-kind contributions, and involvement of their people in SkillsUSA activities. Many more work directly with state associations and local chapters. View A Partnership that Pays Off from SkillsUSA at

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Make the Time