Machine Design

Nuts, bolts, and thingamajigs — how to get kids tinkering

John Ratzenberger, executive producer and host of the Travel Channel’s “John Ratzenberger’s Made in America” TV series recently joined Terrence Egan, director of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Foundation (FMAF), to discuss the manufacturing “skills gap,” and why it’s important to introduce young people to careers in manufacturing.

Edited by Victoria Burt

They had their chat on “America’s Business,” a nationally syndicated radio program. The full interview is available by visiting

Dur ing the inter view, Ratzenberger, also cofounder of the Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs Foundation (NBTF), ( a charitable organization dedicated to introducing young people to the pleasures of tinkering, addressed the importance of informing youngsters about the value and availability of manufacturing jobs to train tomorrow’s workforce.

“We must encourage kids when they graduate from high school to look at manufacturing as a career,” he says. “Part of the problem is the media and Hollywood often portray manufacturing in a poor light, denigrating anyone who works with their hands. I also think the industry goes about it the wrong way. I’ve seen pamphlets, printed books, and handouts and they are all rather dull.”

According to Ratzenberger, the NBTF’s approach is to start with the media and talk about programming that honors people who work with their hands. “We need to do a better job of informing children that it’s not a bad thing to work in a factory,” he says.

Egan noted how the FMA Foundation has joined forces with the NBTF to promote manufacturing by sponsoring 20 camps nationwide that introduce young people ages 12 to 16 to careers in the industry. The FMA Foundation is an educational and charitable organization that provides scholarships and grants to high school and college-age students preparing for careers in metalforming and fabricating technology. The camps team up with local trade or technical schools, and children who attend typical summer camps also can learn about designing 3D parts or building something. The camps let the kids make something that they can be proud of and take home at the end of the week.

Egan believes one key to attracting kids to manufacturing is through technology, such as plasma cutting, laser welding, and robotics. “Let’s get kids off the gaming consoles and show them they can use technologies even more advanced than those little boxes on their TV,” he told listeners. “Let’s teach them that they can learn how to operate the most advanced technology in the world.”

“America’s Business,” sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturing, is a 1-hr radio program hosted by Mike Hambrick and heard on more than 80 stations that delves deep into the issues that shape manufacturing and business in the United States and abroad.

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