Ashley Ridgeway is a manager with Conference Management Services at SkillsUSA and manages the trade show at the national event.
Ashley has been with SkillsUSA for 10 years.
Ashley believes SkillsUSA is the solution to the current skills gap we are facing in the United States.
Ashley has seen tremendous growth in participating exhibitors and revenue for the SkillsUSA TECHSPO trade show under her management. She has also managed the organizations first ever conference app that includes more than 700 events and pertinent conference information.
SkillsUSA TECHSPO was recently ranked #21 for Net Square Feet and #50 for Number of Exhibitors for Trade Show Executive’s Fastest 50 Awards.
Ashley holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mass Communications from Frostburg State University
Can you give a brief overview of the event organizer?
SkillsUSA is a national partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives working together to ensure that America has a skilled workforce. SkillsUSA is a nonprofit, national membership organization serving middle-school, high-school and college/postsecondary students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations.
We have been around for more than 52 years and have 18,000 school chapters in 54 states and territories.
More than 335,000 students and advisors join SkillsUSA annually including 19,500 instructors who join as professional members. SkillsUSA improves the quality of our nation’s future skilled workforce through the development of personal, workplace and technical skills grounded in academics.
How did the National Leadership & Skills Conference originate?
The local chapters of SkillsUSA conduct training programs during the school year, and many students attend and compete at district or state conferences. The National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC) started 52 years ago as a pilot for our members to compete at a national level.
At the SkillsUSA Championships, more than 6,000 students compete in 100 occupational and leadership skill areas. The competition helps establish industry standards for entry-level workers in many of the fields.
The National Conference serves as a forum for our voting delegate to plan and make decisions for the organization. The conference also provides a recruiting opportunity for our business partners and schools to introduce themselves to our members and seek potential employees or to recruit students for their educational institutions.
What are some of the areas of competitions?
We hold competitions covering in a wide variety of technical fields. Perhaps the most popular is robotics where we have five categories. In general, we offer separate competitions in just about every field you would normally find in a technical education school.
We hold completions in culinary-related, health-related, and audio/video-related skills. One of the more interesting areas is in construction-related skills, where we have teams that actually build a small-scale house including all of the HVAC, plumbing, and electric components.
Who are your attendees and does attendance vary from year to year?
The number of attendees has increased steadily over the years. Last year, more than 16,000 people attend including: 6,000 student contestants, 550 voting delegates, and 1,200 observers. Each student attendee is accompanied by an advisor or an administrator.
In addition to our volunteers, there are many industry volunteers that act competition judges.
Where is the event scheduled this year? How do you choose the location?
This year’s event is scheduled to take place in Louisville, Kentucky and we will return to Louisville through the 2020 event.
Starting in 2021, the conference will be held in Atlanta for the first time. The conference is always held during the last full week of June and we normally sign a five-year contract with the venue.
Because the size of the event, we look for venues that can offer the square footage required and has access to sufficient hotel rooms. The Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta is an ideal location because of the size of the venue, the number of local hotels, and the availability of good transportation.
What challenges do you face while managing logistics?
The logistics can be challenging. Trying to schedule 100 separate competitions, exhibits, and programs take a considerable amount of planning. Even assigning meeting rooms and making sure there is no overlap in the equipment setup time can be quite a challenge. And, just keeping track of the loading and storage area requires considerable effort.
Have you added anything new to the event this year?
Last year we tested a conference app and we will use it this year for the first time. We eventually want to do away with our printed program and make the app as our official conference program.
We have added couple of new outside activities to the conference schedule this year. Just after the opening session, we have planned a party at the Fourth Street Light in Louisville with a live band. Then on one another evening, attendees will be our guest at a minor league baseball game with the Louisville Bats.
What is your advice for conference attendees?
Attendees should come with a positive attitude and open mind. Some may be overwhelmed by the scale of the event, but it will be an awesome experience and show them that their future opportunities are endless.
Furthermore, they should come with a resume, download the program app, and review our web site prior to the conference. This will allow them to plan the exhibitors they want to visit and set up meetings with the potential employers. Exhibitors come to the event to recruit the best of the best. If students come with a good resume and an open mind, the conference will potentially open a lot of doors for them.
What kind of exhibitors attend the trade show?
We have about 150 exhibitors that vary over a wide range of industries and educational institutions. To name a few, we have exhibits from large companies like 3M, Georgia Pacific, and John Deere; government organizations like the U. S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Selective Service System; and educational institutes like Lincoln Tech, Johnson & Wales University, and Western Michigan University - College of Aviation.
What is your message for exhibitors?
For potential exhibitors, I would just say that this is the event where you can find next generation of high-caliber students. They are motivated young people getting ready to join the workforce; and, they are here to demonstrate their skills and look for opportunities in the business world.