Helena High SkillsUSA Students Visit Legislature 


Kaylyn Barns, Staff writer

Tuesday, February 7, eight Helena High students visited the state Capitol in hopes of lobbying support for the nationwide trade skills program, SkillsUSA. Among other members of various organizations, including FFA, DECA, JROTC, and more, the Montana students spoke to senators, house representatives, and other state government officials to encourage the passing of a bill being heard on the Senate floor later that afternoon.

     In August of 2022, House Bill 382, proposed by Representative Greg Oblander, would revise “the state-level strengthening career and technology student organizations program,” enabling vocational organizations such as SkillsUSA more stability and impact in the state of Montana through additional funding (laws.leg.MT).

     SkillsUSA, founded in 1965,  encourages work ethic in college, middle, and high school students, with opportunities to compete, demonstrate character,  and cultivate leadership skills (SkillsUSA Minnesota)

    “When students are actively engaged in SkillsUSA, they develop leadership and communication skills as well as other skills like working as a group,” stated one of Helena High’s two group leaders, Ronni Robertson. 

     The HHS SkillsUSA Club has been involved throughout the school, including being responsible for creating last year’s “Haunted Hallways,” a Halloween project. Members additionally participate in activities such as lathe work and hydro dipping. “What I was hoping to gain [in joining the club] was somewhere to hang out, but it’s definitely been more than than,” said Club Vice President, Kellton Holzer.

     HB382 would mean a million dollars of state funding to be divided among the 7 Career Technical Student Organizations (CTSO) programs, rather than $500,000–in which most money needed is acquired through fundraisers and other time-consuming strategies. Additional money would allow not only SkillsUSA to be more accessible for students across the state, but also other promote other clubs in rural communities, where funds are limited.

     Ms. Robertson added, “Funding would also be used to increase training and certification opportunities–and therefore JOB opportunities–to students throughout the state of Montana.”

     The students spent their day wandering the building, speaking with senators, representatives, “and anyone who would listen to us trying to convince them to support the bill,” reported HHS Club President, Tithen Fitzgerald.

     “We gave elevator speeches, which is where we kinda, in less than a minute, tell them what we are about, the funding, how it works, what its done for us,” said Holzer. “From about one to two we went and stood in front of the [Senate] doors so we could talk to people as they filed in.”

      Holzer went on to mention hearing officials “commenting that ‘this was the biggest turnout we’ve had for any bill.’ The most people they’d had there representing a bill, talking about the bill . . . “

     To be honest,” Holzer concluded, I really think it would’ve passed without us there, it seems like everyone we talked to was like, ‘aw, I was in those programs as a kid . . . yeah, we’re voting for this!”

     With the passing of HB382, not only are school extracurriculars strengthened, opportunity for Montana students is secured, solidifying Montana’s future workforce. In the meantime, SkillsUSA students will continue growing and striving to make Helena High a better place.