An Event-Focused Solution to Closing the Skills Gap

Recognizing an imminent labor shortage in its industry, the National Kitchen and Bath Association launched a conference program for local high school students to build awareness about careers in residential construction and design. It’s a model for others to consider.

Manufacturing, hospitality, construction, and cybersecurity. These are just a few of the industries that are concerned about a looming skills gap and are taking proactive steps to attract young people to their workforce.

Often, these efforts involve launching apprenticeship programs or multimedia campaigns that encourage young people to consider jobs in their respective fields or to educate them about opportunities available. But the National Kitchen and Bath Association, faced with a similar challenge, tried something new at its Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Las Vegas last month.

NKBA invited 150 high school students from the local Clark County School District to attend its #NextUp program to build awareness about the need for skilled labor in all segments of residential design and construction.

“The kitchen and bath industry’s growth trajectory, coupled with the labor shortages we’re seeing in the economy, gives us an ideal opportunity to educate the next generation on the many lucrative and creative opportunities we have in this market,” said NKBA CEO Bill Darcy in a press release [PDF]. “The NKBA #NextUp program at KBIS provided an ideal opportunity for us to directly engage with local Las Vegas high school students while connecting them with kitchen and bath professionals so they can gain insight into how they might want to consider structuring their own paths.”

The half-day event included a panel discussion led by Karl Champley—an Australian master builder and television personality who is currently appearing on “Ellen’s Design Challenge”—where design and construction pros shared stories of their own journeys and career paths.

Following the panel, students met NKBA executives and other industry professionals while touring the KBIS show floor. Each panelist guided 15 students through the expo, introducing them to products, programs, and people in multiple facets of the industry. The tours let students see firsthand the latest in kitchen and bath products and technologies, while also providing a glimpse into the breadth of opportunities that a career in the industry can offer.

Granted, it will be a while before NKBA knows whether any of these 150 students decide to pursue kitchen and bath design and construction as a career. But the program is a good example of an association thinking outside the box and actively making the case to the next generation about why they should be a part of its industry.

It’s a model that other associations could adopt relatively easily at their own tradeshow or annual conference. Your biggest face-to-face events are likely must-attends for your most engaged members, and I’d bet that many would be more than willing to participate in a panel or tradeshow tour with students. And your host city’s CVB probably has contacts with local school districts and can assist you in finding students to invite.

Combine those advantages with the insights your association has about your industry, and your student program is sure to leave members and young attendees impressed and engaged.

Has your association ever hosted programming for students during your tradeshow or annual conference? Tell us how it went in the comments.

High school students take part in the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show. (Allison Pierce)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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