Greg Castle, of Lowmansville, is the president of the SkillsUSA chapter at Big Sandy Community and Technical College.  He will graduate in May with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Electrical Technology. When Greg Castle returned from his service in the U.S. Navy, he enrolled in college.

It was short-lived and he, instead, entered the workforce. It was a decision he regretted, but decades later, he is turning his dream of a college education into a reality.

Castle, of Lowmansville, will graduate in May with an Associate of Applied Science degree in electrical technology. Earlier this year, he was selected as the SkillsUSA chapter president for Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC).

Going back to school has been one of the best decisions of my life, said Castle, who was laid off from a local company in 2012. What I have learned here will allow me to re-enter the workforce with confidence and with a skill that is marketable to employers.

SkillsUSA improves the quality of Americas skilled workforce through a structured program of citizenship, leadership, employability, and technical and professional skills training. They serve more than 300,000 students and instructors annually.

BSCTCs SkillsUSA chapter is one of 13,000 across the nation. More than 14,500 instructors and administrators are professional members of SkillsUSA.

This is an opportunity for our students to be a part of something that promotes the value of work and career education, said C.W. Vanhoose, assistant professor of electrical technology and co-advisor of the SkillsUSA chapter at BSCTC. We need to understand and embrace that theres a tangible value to skilled trades and career education. Our programs open the door to vast opportunities to have a meaningful and productive career.

Dr. Devin Stephenson, president of BSCTC, vowed to make career/technical education a priority. The SkillsUSA chapter and the creation of the National Technical Honor Society (NTHS) is just the start of colleges transformation.

For our region to be successful, we must have programs that are impactful and relevant, said Dr. Stephenson. We have to work with those in economic development to create the programs and credentials before they are evident to others. We have to be responsive to the needs of business and industry and create programs that can bring new investments and opportunities to our region.

One East Kentucky, a regional economic and community development organization representing nine counties in eastern Kentucky, is located on the Prestonsburg campus of BSCTC.

It is important that we remain engaged in dialogue with those on the frontlines of economic development, said Dr. Stephenson. This will allow us to better align and adapt programs to the ever-changing needs of business and industry, and further allow us to market eastern Kentucky as a place that is open to business.

Castle said that SkillsUSA allows students the opportunity to network with employers and understand that the skills they are acquiring are well sought after.

SkillsUSA creates a platform for us to have a voice, said Castle. Learning a skill is not only honorable, but its needed and can be quite profitable.

In April, SkillsUSA representatives from BSCTC will participate in a state competition in Louisville. Castle will be competing in construction wireman. Other students will participate in areas of motor controls, welding, carpentry and other areas.