Passing The Tinkering Torch

Best known as Cliff on "Cheers," John Ratzenberger is an unabashed champion of American manufacturing. His charitable organization, Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation (NBTF), is dedicated to introducing young people to the joys of tinkering in an effort to inspire the next generation of skilled manual artists, engineers and inventors.

     From Franklin to Edison to Carver to Ford, all great inventors have shared one thing in common: as children, they had all been inveterate tinkerers. They fiddled with things, took them apart, put them back together, wondered how everything fit together—and tried to make something new out of what they’d learn by doing. These are the opening words from actor John Ratzenberger on his Web site at www.nutsandboltsfoundation.org.

    Best known as Cliff on "Cheers,"Ratzenberger is an unabashed champion of American manufacturing. His charitable organization, Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation (NBTF), is dedicated to introducing young people to the joys of tinkering in an effort to inspire the next generation of skilled manual artists, engineers and inventors.

    And his initiative is getting help from the manufacturing community. On his Web site is an impressive roster of manufacturing heavy weights that support this foundation. One of these sponsors is FMAF, the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Foundation .

    FMAF recently announced that grants ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 are now available to not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions capable of offering overnight or day camp experiences in the summer of 2009. The purpose of the manufacturing camps is to provide a positive, hands-on experience that presents manufacturing as an option for young people.

    To qualify for a grant, camps must target young people between 12 and 16 years old. Preference will be given to organizations serving minority populations. The application deadline is December 12, 2008. Questions can be directed to (888) 394-4362 or e-mail at foundation@fmanet.org.

    Suggested curriculum for the week-long manufacturing camps might include a day or two of introduction to CAD software, a day or two in a metalworking shop or training facility and a day of touring regional manufacturing facilities. “There is a demographic shift in the U.S. workforce caused by retiring baby boomers, and the manufacturing sector is already feeling the impact,” according to Ratzenberger. “There is an ever increasing demand for highly skilled professionals who can design, program and operate technology.”

    Of course, that information is not news to manufacturing as we have been dealing with the lack of skilled workers for some time now. What is news, however, is that efforts such as NBTF are being made on our behalf from such an unlikely source as Hollywood. It’s nice to have a preacher who is not from the choir.