Big Collegiate Sports has managed to instill enthusiasm for recruiting young athletes by creating a media hullabaloo around “signing days” when individual kids commit their near-term futures to Gonzaga basketball or Michigan football or Tufts lacrosse.
Over the last several years, Big American Manufacturing has started to mimic this approach with a “National Signing Day” sponsored by the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3).
Each April, dozens of technical and vocational colleges across the country get together to announce and recognize hundreds of high-school recruits who’ve pledged to attend their institutions in the fall to embark on careers in welding, CAD design, machine maintenance and other industrial pursuits — where practitioners are sorely needed as American manufacturers by and large continue to gear up their output amid a skills-starved labor market.
“This is how you create excitement around someone who’s going to turn professional plumber,” Bryan Albrecht told the recent Chief Executive Smart Manufacturing Summit in Louisville. The president emeritus of Gateway College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was one of the pioneers who established NC3 and the annual signing day.
Roger Tadajewski, NC3’s executive director, discussed the rationale of the signing day at a roundtable at the Smart Manufacturing Summit. “Each year there are an average of 235 to 240 athletes who put on a hat on [signing] day and appear on ESPN,” Tadajewski said. “So NC3 said, ‘Why can’t every student have that kind of pride?’ They’re a core part of America.”
To qualify for signing day, high-schoolers sign a non-binding letter of commitment — similar to what college-bound athletes sign — to attend a particular community or technical or vocational college and pursue an industrial program. In a ceremony, the kid gets before the assembled crowd and dons a signing-day hat. NC3’s media arm covers and promotes these events. Friends, relatives, school and community leaders, industry executives are all invited to attend and create a glow of admiration and appreciation for the young recruits to bask in.
“The back of the room is filled with relatives, professionals in their profession, industry partners,” Albrecht said. “They get cake and ice cream.”
Added Tadajewski, “Every parent or grandparent wants to know one thing: Someone wants their child, and how can their child be a part of the socioeconomy.”
The baseball caps are a key to the success of NC3’s signing day just as they’re symbolic of the power of a key athletic recruit to a university sports program. “They get to keep that hat,” Albrecht said. “And there’s power in the hat: They wear it pridefully through the [college] campus and ethen back in their own high school, and they talk with their friends and their parents. Signing day is the only way to get that cap; they have to earn it.
“That cap is a token of pride and dignity like a gold medal or a [sports] scholarship to USC. That’s the kind of impact you can have.”