CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With hundreds of thousands of industry jobs remaining unfilled across the U.S. and more than 23% of current skilled professionals at or near retirement age, there is a massive opportunity for young workers to embark on careers in the skilled professions.
At the forefront of the mission to introduce a new generation to America’s skilled workforce is Be Pro Be Proud, an initiative to bring the public’s perception of technical careers into the 21st century. Participants at NASCC: The Steel Conference had the opportunity to interact with Be Pro Be Proud at its hands-on mobile workshop, housed in a 78-ft, custom-built trailer. Inside, a variety of virtual-reality simulators offer visitors the unique chance to drive a tractor, practice welding, guide an excavator, and much more.
“When we first bring our workshop to people, especially students, they often view it as a fun distraction from academics or work,” said Andrew Parker, the executive director of Be Pro Be Proud. “Later, the experiences they had stick with them and become a reason to achieve more meaningful training and education.”
The Be Pro Be Proud initiative targets many audiences, including high school and nontraditional students, current skilled professionals, legislators, parents, teachers, career coaches, and employers. First established in Arkansas in 2016 and later in North Carolina in 2022, the initiative aims to dispel myths that deter people from entering skilled professions.
“For a long time, we’ve been seeing people label themselves as somewhat of a failure if they don’t attend a four-year college or complete their four-year college degree, when often they weren’t a good match for it in the first place,” said Wade Butner, director of external affairs for SPEVCO Special Vehicles Company, which builds Be Pro Be Proud’s trailers. “We’re changing that perception and encouraging people to make these careers their top choice.”
Part of overcoming such myths involves showcasing the vocational pride held by skilled professionals and highlighting the many training and career opportunities available across several fields, including the construction, manufacturing, transportation, and utility industries.
“One of the biggest myths surrounds the financial opportunities gained from entering into the skilled professions. People are surprised at how easy it becomes to earn a six-figure income just five years out of high school,” Butner said. “The people we reach are the future owners of companies and will manage 30 to 40 employees themselves later in their careers.”
Since North Carolina’s Be Pro Be Proud team introduced its two units in October 2022, it has reached more than 20,000 students--and there are more than 300 entries on a waitlist of requests for a trailer visit. With that demand, leaders anticipate that the student tally will top 75,000 by the end of 2023. Given its popularity, it’s clear that Be Pro Be Proud is striking a chord with both its young and experienced workshop participants.
“Everywhere we go, adults tell us they wish they had this program when they were young,” Parker said. “All of us see ourselves in the audience this reaches.”
Check out this video of a student event elsewhere in North Carolina:
In the coming years, Be Pro Be Proud has its eyes set on expanding its presence beyond the states it currently serves (Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and New Mexico) and into the rest of the country. Also, its leaders are especially interested in engaging parents, who have been historically challenging to reach, to show them all the benefits of encouraging their children to learn a skilled profession.
Visit Be Pro Be Proud’s website to find out more about the initiative and how you can get involved.