National Signing Day. It’s a day filled with excitement, promise and pride as high school seniors formally announce the college or university they’ve chosen to continue their academic careers following high school graduation. But for some graduating seniors, rather than donning a sweatshirt with the logo or mascot of their future college or university, declaring a major and selecting classes for the fall, they will be putting on tool belts and embarking on what can be a rewarding and fruitful career as a construction industry tradesperson.

“A career as a tradesperson can create a meaningful journey with the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurship while positively addressing a nationwide issue,” said Heather Prill, senior manager of strategic partnerships, The Home Depot Foundation. “Presently, there are nearly 300,000 open career roles in the construction industry and many offer competitive incomes.”

The Home Depot Foundation’s Path to Pros trades training program, in partnership with SkillsUSA’s National Signing Day, is helping to drive awareness and motivate interest around construction trades, including but not limited to, flooring installation, carpentry, masonry and drafting.

“Together with our valued supplier partner Klein Tools, we served as the exclusive Southeast regional sponsor of SkillsUSA’s National Signing Day 2021,” said Prill. “We forged meaningful relationships with schools across the country while also distributing $30,000 in scholarships to students entering postsecondary trade programs. It’s great to see so many students pursuing dreams in the skilled trades.”

The Path to Pros program has committed $50 million to help fill the growing skilled labor gap, and with the help of initiatives like SkillsUSA’s National Signing Day and nonprofit partners like Home Builders Institute (HBI) and Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA), the program trains and certifies high school students, including those in underserved communities, and it prepares separating military for their next career.

As industry associations like the WFCA and FCLC continue to seek solutions to address the shortage of qualified labor, which continues to plague and cripple the flooring industry as a whole, programs like Path to Pros provide an additional, much needed resolution to an ongoing crisis.

“We're going to quit talking about it and as an industry we're going to show all other industries that when you come together you can fix the thing that is hurting you the most,” said Scott Humphrey, CEO of the WFCA. “I challenge you. I beg you. I ask you to look forward and think about your legacy and say, ‘I will be a part of the solution.’”

As part of that overall solution and effort to secure the next generation of flooring installers, Prill says joining these flooring industry associations in providing access to industry-recognized certifications, necessary tools and relevant information on the benefits of this trade will help foster a healthy pipeline into the flooring industry.

To date, Path to Pros has introduced more than 15,000 to the skilled trades and has certified more than 5,000 participants, and most recently, the Home Depot Foundation announced its $250,000 Path to Pro scholarship program to continue the education of the next generation of skilled tradespeople.

Eligible applicants included high school seniors that are active members of SkillsUSA, live in the Southeast, where The Home Depot was the exclusive regional sponsor, and committed to attending a building/construction trade school. Additionally, candidates submitted a letter of support, were in good standing at their educational institution and submitted an essay responding to: “Why are you passionate about pursuing a career in the building/construction trades?”

“For us, it’s about helping to pair the right people, programs and opportunities to create career opportunities and help solve industry challenges,” says Prill. “So, whether it’s National Signing Day 2021, our engagements with the Home Builders Institute, Construction Education Foundation of Georgia or Atlanta Technical College, our focus is to create intentional programs and scholarships that will train the next generation of skilled tradespeople.”