Photo courtesy of Peyton Holland.
In construction, a strong foundation is crucial to the future durability, stability and resilience of any building. Peyton Holland thinks about that daily when he stands on the front porch of his home, which is held up by the 16 brick columns he and his dad built together.
From an early age, Holland knew he wanted to create both a home and a future with his own two hands. Growing up in rural North Carolina, his family ran a farm and sawmill that fostered a deep appreciation for the value of a useful skill from a very young age. He watched his dad Charles — a quintessential jack-of-all-trades — build and fix anything and everything. Holland considers his dad one of the greatest architects, engineers and entrepreneurs he’s ever met. “He not only cut every board and nailed every nail to build the family home,” Holland explains, “but he was also the owner, the accountant, the mechanic, and both the help desk and the support technician for several businesses he built from the ground up. These businesses have provided for our family for over 50 years.”
Through watching his father, Holland had a front row seat to the powerful combustion of knowledge and skill meeting imagination and innovation. These formative experiences fostered Holland’s belief that “a master craftsperson should be looked upon in society as having the same value as someone with a master’s degree. A skilled craftsperson always seeks to understand how and why things are the way they are.”
When you first meet Holland, it’s easy to feel an instant connection. He is friendly, kind, thoughtful and personable. Like many highly successful people, he’s also humble and quick to make the conversation about others. Now 36, Holland was the same as a teenager when he presented himself as a new student in the masonry program at Northwood High School in Pittsboro. That’s where he was introduced to SkillsUSA and a mentor as valuable as his dad.
“There isn’t enough room on any page to describe the difference that SkillsUSA advisor George Braxton made in my life,” Holland says. “When I entered his class, I was a freshman with tremendous self-doubt who wanted to learn to lay brick and stay under the radar. Mr. Braxton saw something different in me. He used SkillsUSA to show me the power of believing in myself, and that changed the course of my life.”
Braxton made sure his students experienced all opportunities in SkillsUSA, from competitions to leadership development conferences. Holland quickly came to understand that his involvement with SkillsUSA would connect him to industry, and that alone had a huge impact. “It was incredible to see leaders from every type of business at our conferences, engaging with students and helping with contests and training,” Holland recalls. “I remember watching the SkillsUSA North Carolina Masonry competition. It was humbling to see the most talented individuals in the industry pushing wheelbarrows full of mortar to the students as if they were the tenders and the student was the master bricklayer. That showed me how much industry believed in what SkillsUSA was doing to grow the workforce for entire industries.”
Building on Opportunity
“The first state conference I attended, I was around thousands of students who were energetic, uplifting, confident and passionate,” Holland remembers. “You couldn’t help but want to be a part of it.” Holland joined in later that year at a SkillsUSA leadership conference, where he experienced the power of public speaking and decided to set higher goals for himself.
Back in the classroom, Braxton continued to mentor Holland on how to communicate effectively, conduct himself in meetings and find value in every experience. “I remember trying to create a resume as a freshman,” Holland says. “I felt deflated when I had no employers to list. Mr. Braxton helped me see that my experience working on the farm and my SkillsUSA activities highlighted traits any employer would be looking for. He taught me how to identify those skills and articulate them in a way that was relevant. I began to see myself in a different light.”
Holland’s newfound confidence led to his election as chapter president (a position he’d also hold in college). He also became a two-time national Job Interview medalist and, eventually, state president. That’s when another important mentor came into his life. Glenn Barefoot was the SkillsUSA North Carolina state director at the time, a man Holland says “is the reason I have been able to live out my passion in career and technical education. Not only did he provide tremendous opportunities for state officers, but he was willing to take a chance on a young kid like me.”
In 2004, with Barefoot’s guidance, Holland earned a role as the college/postsecondary vice president on SkillsUSA’s national officer team. The cross-country travel Holland participated in as a national officer helped him hone his responsibility, adaptability and flexibility skills while establishing career-shaping connections. “I had the chance to meet and share meals with top business leaders,” he says. “Each conversation was such a learning opportunity. Watching these leaders engage, ask questions and make decisions gave me great examples of how some of the best leaders in the nation navigate their business.”
The trips also gave Holland the opportunity to keep growing as a speaker and presenter. Between facilitating workshops, talking with partners, presenting to school boards and participating in a variety of programs, he learned different engagement strategies. Every time he told his SkillsUSA story, he remembers the incredible feeling when he would see audience members challenge themselves or step outside their comfort zones. “It is intriguing to watch how your story can impact an audience. Being able to play a part in motivating someone is exhilarating.”
Passion Becomes Career
Holland earned a degree in marketing from North Carolina State University, along with a Master of Science in global innovation management from North Carolina State University and a Master of Business Administration — with a specialization in innovation — from Aix-Marseille University in France, where he lived and studied.
Despite his three degrees, Holland learned from his dad and key mentors that success isn’t defined by the credentials hanging on your wall. Instead, it’s built from the skills you develop and then use. That understanding led Holland to launch a successful motivational speaking and training company while securing a part-time position with SkillsUSA North Carolina. It didn’t take long for “part time” to become “full time,” and later, in 2014, Holland was named the state association’s executive director, a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for an organization that changed my life in more ways than I could count.” Five years later, thanks in part to connections made through SkillsUSA, Holland embraced his current position as executive director of the National Technical Honor Society (NTHS).
“I cannot begin to name the many ways SkillsUSA accelerated my career path,” Holland says.
He credits SkillsUSA with helping him find a passion for serving others, too. “Not only did I find that passion, but the training I received helped me turn that passion into a career.”
NTHS was founded by educators who believe students investing their time in learning a skill should be recognized and celebrated, something that dovetails perfectly with Holland’s prior experiences and ongoing passion. “I always had a deep appreciation for the value of skills thanks to my dad,” he says. “However, I also experienced the stigma that society often puts on CTE when I went to sign up for masonry. The message I heard was that CTE was not a path to success.” Holland is working to change that (mis)perception through every role he holds, especially at NTHS.
Career and technical education has shaped more than Holland’s career; it’s also the foundation of his family. Holland’s wife of seven years, Kara, was a state officer for Future Farmers of America (FFA) and a national competitor in public speaking. “Our CTSO [career and technical student organization] connections were my opening line when I approached her to say hello for the very first time at her family’s feed store,” Holland laughs. The couple currently has one son, to whom Holland hopes to pass down some of the many skills he learned from his dad.
“We’ve got to encourage students to be more like my dad,” Holland affirms, “a student of life who is hungry to understand, not just to ingest knowledge. We’ve got to value both skill and academics. If we are ever going to have a shot at closing the skills gap and reducing its economic impact, we’ve got to start encouraging students to think about education differently. Let’s change the story we tell ourselves and our children about what success looks like.”
Watch Peyton Holland’s TEDx Talk, “Skills that Pay the Bills and Redefine Success.”