Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is putting tools back in students’ hands

The national hardware retailer is addressing a significant gap between skilled workers and open positions in the trades through its philanthropic support of career and technical education programs.

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With a broad swath of the nation’s hard-working trade laborers entering retirement, it will be up to our career and technical education (CTE) providers to supply their most valuable product, skilled workers.

Harbor Freight Tools wants to ensure that these programs have the support to continue training this vital workforce. That’s why Harbor Freight Tools CEO Eric Smidt and the Smidt Foundation launched Harbor Freight Tools for Schools (HFTS). Since 2013, HFTS has given millions of dollars in donated tools, supplies and grants to underfunded programs around the country.

Harbor Freight Tools for Schools supports career and technical education providers which have had their funding cut.
Harbor Freight Tools for Schools made a huge splash with its first donation of $1.5 million in tools and equipment for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Photo – Harbor Freight Tools for Schools

Skilled workers are highly prized and well-compensated. These jobs remain a significant career pathway to the middle class for students who do not plan on attending a four-year college. Plumbers and electricians, for example, can earn on average between $52,000 and $54,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, the scale at which CTE schools replace retiring workers is not enough to meet this demand. Declining interest in these programs and budget cutbacks, especially at the high school level, threaten to curtail the flow of new workers into the trades when we need them the most.

One sector that is projected to grow faster than the national average is construction. The industry was hit hard by the Great Recession and shed more than 1.5 million jobs. Though construction hiring has climbed, it hasn’t recovered to its previous strength.

Area Development reported findings from USG + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index which said that 65 percent of small contractors had difficulties finding skilled workers. Despite an uptick in construction hiring this year, the tight labor market is one of the leading factors contributing to a housing shortage.

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To combat this shortage, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools developed partnerships with Big Picture Learning, Real World Scholars and the Ventura County Office of Education Career Learning Center. These partnerships were made to enhance current CTE programs and attract more students who want to pursue alternative career pathways.

Image via Harbor Freight Tools for Schools.

In 2017, the organization created the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. WorkingNation has shared their video of the three winners: Bob Kilmer of Enumclaw High School; Brendan Malone of Urban Assembly New York Harbor and Jonathan Schwartz of Colfax High School accepting the $100,000 award. In total, more than $500,000 was given to 10 CTE programs and teachers.

WorkingNation celebrates the companies that are making a difference in supporting CTE programs. We have highlighted the partnership between Snap-on Inc. and Gateway Technical College which provides state-of-the-art tools and equipment to train automotive mechanics. Our filmmakers also have featured the advanced manufacturing and 3D-printing training program offered by NC3 and Dremel.

We look forward to seeing what the future holds for Harbor Freight Tools for Schools and their next venture. To learn more about the organization, click here.

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