Carrington Fox, a Nashville journalist and mother of three who returned to college to pursue her lifelong dream of building, was named the College System of Tennessee's Outstanding Technical Student of the Year. She shares her speech, given during the SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Conference, below. Carrington-300x300As long as I can remember, I have wanted to build things. As a child, I built forts and tree houses. As I got older, I was more interested in garden structures, greenhouses and chicken coops. So I always thought I would become a landscape architect. I went to college at Princeton University, where I majored in art history with a focus in landscape architecture, but after four years of studying the design and philosophy of the most beautiful gardens in the world, I graduated from the Ivy League and still didn't know how to build or plant anything. So, instead of becoming a landscape architect, I became a journalist. I got an MBA at Vanderbilt University. I had a family... And, in the blink of an eye, 25 years passed. About a year ago, I admitted to myself I wasn't doing the work I wanted to do. I drove to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Nashville and asked them to teach me to build things. Over the next sixteen months, I climbed up ladders, onto roofs and into Dumpsters. I wired circuits and soldered copper. I competed at SkillsUSA, where my team won a gold medal, and when I got home, my children gave me a circular saw for Mother's Day. When I graduated in December, I joined The Wills Company, a design-build firm in Nashville, where every day I learn more about building the structures I always wanted to make. I changed the path of my life in technical school, and I had the time of my life doing it. PullQuote-0323When I pivoted from journalism to construction, I assumed I would quit writing. But the stories I found in construction college were so interesting, inspirational, heartwarming and just plain hilarious that I started writing them down in a blog I called "Build Me Up, Buttercup" because it was about building and also about the people and experiences that were building me up as a person. I wrote about the carpenter from Egypt who taught our class to make our work both functional and beautiful. I wrote about the veterans returning from Afghanistan, who taught us to work fearlessly and without complaint. I wrote about a 16-year-old woman training to join her family business, who taught me to have confidence in my 46-year-old self. Along the way, an amazing thing happened: People started reading "Build Me Up, Buttercup." Not just my family and classmates, but people across the country. They wrote me emails that started, "Dear Buttercup." Often, they were women my age, ready to make a career change. Often, they were parents, writing on behalf of their college-age son or daughter. They didn't think traditional college was right for their child, but they had never considered technical education until they stumbled across the Buttercup family. They asked if technical school was worth the time. Was it affordable? Would I recommend it for their family? To all of the above, I answered a resounding YES. I would recommend exploring a technical education at any stage in life. Because it was not in the Ivy League or at Vanderbilt graduate school, but it was in technical school, that I built skills and confidence to do what I really wanted to do. I have written a lot of stories as a journalist, but "Build Me Up, Buttercup" — a story of men and women training to build our community — is the best story I have ever had the privilege to tell. I am delighted to share my experience with other families, in hopes that it might build them up, too.

Read more highlights of women in construction here.

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  1. jeanne | Apr 24, 2018
    BINGO!!! Loved your entire response, Linwood Noble. Thank you for this detailed call to action for EMPLOYERS.
  2. Linwood Noble | Mar 23, 2018
    There is a skill out there for everyone. In order to fill this so called ‘Skills Gap”, I think we all need to invest in our employees and train them to the standards we all want and desire. Merely posting a job description online is not a good way of finding the right employee. Often times we sacrifice personality over experience. When we sacrifice that way, we are rolling the dice on a personality that may not work or fit.First let’s start out by determining the skill we are looking for. Of course, it is always going to benefit you if you can hire from within. Second determine the lowest benchmark for that job. I think it is more important to invest in an employee and get them up to standards. With a little bit of training with the benchmarks that need to be met, we can work our new team member into the job we want and we can choose the desired speed in which we train the “newbie”.This is a two-fold advantage for the company:1.      The first advantage comes once you build that employee into the job you are needing them to perform. Furthermore, starting the new employee at a lower pay rate and having them work for the position you desire allows them room for growth.2.      The second advantage comes in the form of employee investment. This type of investment will send a ripple effect to other employees and say to each team member that the company really does care.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a fully invested team and to know that you had a hand in building that team from the ground level? I feel this type of investment would not only reduce turnover but would also increase productivity all while making a better product. WE have to increase training, lower the standards for experience ONLY and train the employees we have. I do not believe in the skills gap myth, nor do I think that there are Americans out there that do not want to do certain jobs.

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    About NCCER

    NCCER develops standardized construction and maintenance curricula and assessments with portable credentials. These credentials are tracked through NCCER’s National Registry which allows organizations and companies to track the qualifications of their craft professionals and/or check the qualifications of possible new hires. The National Registry also assists craft professionals by maintaining their records in a secure database.