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Brandon Long, a Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Paris student, participates in the barbering competition during the Tennessee State Leadership and Skills Conference at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. There were 110 different SkillsUSA competitions going on during the event.

Have you noticed the similarly clad young people walking around downtown this week?

If not, well, that's OK.

But be fully aware that beneath the matching red sports coats or the white shirts and dark pants or whatever other unifying ensemble they choose is a next generation of American effort.

The can-do and just as importantly the will-do that the high school and college students participating here this week for the SkillsUSA Tennessee State Leadership and Skills conference make me proud.

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Jay Greeson

They should make all of us proud and hopeful for a better America.

OK, pardon the hyperbole, but consider the following:

» How long have we heard people talk about the need for open immigration because young Americans do not want certain jobs?;

» The overflow of students who believe four-year colleges are the only way to find a place in the professional world has made tuition skyrocket and filled our workforce with 15th century European art majors looking for jobs;

» How many times have you asked, "Man, I wish I could find a good" and finish that sentence with whatever skill you need?

These 1,500 or so students are here in Chattanooga at our Convention Center competing in everything from hair-styling to bathroom construction to robotics.

Yes, there is great value in a four-year degree. Many, many parents know that education is key to future success and want their children to pursue as much education as possible.

And there is great value in the piece of paper four-year schools hand you. That degree can open doors, prove competence and the wherewithal to finish what you start.

But Knoxville or UTC or Auburn or wherever is not for every student or every family situation, and a lot of these kids are making the most of that reality.

It's one of the reasons why the Future Ready Institutes in Hamilton County high schools proposed by Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson has been so universally praised.

Side note: If you will allow me a quick tangent, as Johnson prepares to present the Future Ready Institutes plan to the Board of Education tonight, here's a thought: Yes, I like the idea, for a lot of the same reasons I am proud of the SkillsUSA kids here in Chattanooga. Career training and target-specific education are good things. That said, here's hoping that talking heads like me and the public in general will embrace the school board asking pointed questions about the plan. We have called for more stringent oversight from that board for a long time. Hoping the board will ask questions about the details, whether about transportation issues or other specific costs to the district, is in no way saying that this is a bad idea. We as voters and taxpayers expect the board to help troubleshoot potential potholes in a project that we all see great promise in, not simply rubberstamp a major initiative.

As for the collection of talented and focused students who range from 11th-graders to almost 30-year-olds in Chattanooga for the next few days, well, it's hard not to be encouraged by their enthusiasm for their future career aspirations.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and 423-757-6343.

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