Trade program aims to recruit young Americans out of high school: Find a job that will ‘never get outsourced’

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A new program is bolstering technical education to recruit young Americans into the trades as the industry struggles to replace retiring workers, a trade professional told Fox News Digital. 

Trade retail company Northern Tool + Equipment launched the Tools for the Trades program in support of schools’ career and technical education (CTE) programs to help address the skilled trades labor gap. Schools, students and instructors involved in the program receive equipment to increase their learning about the different trades and opportunities they can provide as an alternative to the four-year degree. 

Northern Tool + Equipment CEO Suresh Krishna told Fox News Digital the retail manufacturing company is primarily focused on selling tools and equipment to people in the trades, but said he and his colleagues noticed an unfortunate trend that spurred the idea to start the Tools for the Trades program. 

“Our mission is to serve people who do the tough jobs in this country, people who build this country, people who are maintaining this country,” he said. “We wanted to give back to the community and for us it was a no-brainer to help people who are in the trades. When you think about the folks who are in the trades, the biggest problem we have today is not enough people are in the trades.”

“You think about the folks who are in the trades today, and they’re aging out. Not enough are coming into the trades,” he added. “When we were celebrating our 40th year anniversary, we said we want to give back to our community of customers who we serve.”

He said they considered growing programs at community colleges, but administrators said they weren’t getting enough students to join their programs and that the problem was further upstream. 

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“That’s when we zeroed in and said our focus needs to be in high schools because that is the feeder and the pipeline for the future generation of trades people,” Krishna said. “When we spoke with CTE teachers and CTE program leaders and district superintendents, we quickly realized that they are starving for equipment, they don’t have the latest equipment. Many schools have the latest and greatest iPads and computers and everything that helps kids go towards a four-year college degree, but not enough are exposed to the latest in technology that’s available in trade programs.”

“Their ask of us was help with getting us the latest equipment for our workshops, help us with connecting with people who are in the trades, so students get a real life example of what life looks like after they get into the trades programs,” he said. “With our customer base and then our vendor base of people who supply the equipment that we sell, we created this program because we knew we could bring together an ecosystem of people who are like-minded in helping advance the trades program.”

Krishna said the Tools for the Trades program is usually focused on three trade areas: automotive repair, construction trades and metalworking. 

“We have those kinds of equipment that we sell in our retail stores, so we work with the teachers to figure out what it is that they need and we provide a donation to them so that they have and their students have access to the latest and most modern equipment in these trade areas.”

Tools for the Trade students

For example, two Minnesota high schools in the Tools for the Trades program are getting ready to reveal go-karts they’ve spent an entire school year making with help from celebrity mentors like NASCAR legend Richard Petty and celebrity motorcycle builder Billy Lane. 

“Over the last two and a half years, we’ve helped 30 schools across the country, and we generally help about 10 to 15 schools each year,” he said. “We are seeing in each instance the enthusiasm when students see the new tools and the enthusiasm when they are in touch with celebrities like Richard Petty, it’s just amazing. They continue to reinforce to them the benefits of working with your own hands. Those are jobs that are in huge demand right now and those are jobs that can never get outsourced to anybody else, anywhere else in the world.”

Krishna said there is stigma about trade jobs because people have been taught to think that trade jobs are not good careers, which he argued is obviously not true. 

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“Our entire effort with this Tools for the Trades program was to not just provide equipment and tools and skills for CTE programs and teachers, but also to help create a more appropriate, positive information flow to everybody who would consider our trades program, whether it is their students or their parents,” he said. “Everybody is involved in helping a student make the decision to go down that path, so we are doing this to engage with all the stakeholders that could create this pipeline for the future.”

Krishna said shrinking funding and the elimination of technical programs is largely the result of the negative connotations surrounding the trades, but argued they are important because the country was built on the backs of tradespeople. 

“When you think about who built this country, going back all the way 40, 50 years, it’s people who could do work with their hands, it’s people who are in the trades, construction trades, metalworking trades, building bridges, putting metal together,” he said. “All of that infrastructure that built this country was done by people in the trades, people who learned from the shop class back in the day. So the funding has reduced and, in general, people have tended to send their kids into four-year degree programs.”

Richard Petty

Krishna made clear he isn’t against four-year degree programs in any way, but believes American society should be more open to the idea that the traditional college experience might not work for everybody and that there is a subset of the population that would thrive in the trades. 

“By focusing on CTE programs where it exists, but it’s underfunded or where it doesn’t exist and they are starting something new, we can go in and help get it started,” he said. “We believe we can provide an alternative to students who are being forced down one path, which is the four-year degree path.”  

“Students should have an informed decision-making ability. By providing them with information on the benefits and the opportunities that exist in the trades, where you can do work with your own hands, that your job will never get outsourced to any other country, that this country needs, where there is a shortage of folks who are going to retire and there is no pipeline coming in to take their jobs, we need that,” he added. “That’s why the CTE programs that we support we believe will be helping the future of this country.”

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In its partnership with high schools, Tools for Trades also connects CTE teachers with experts in the field to teach master classes, give students advice and provide job shadowing opportunities to give them a “day in the life” experience to better understand and learn what is expected of them in the trade. The opportunities often lead to internships or part-time jobs, which allow students to get real life experience.

Dystany Spurlock

Krishna said the trades let America’s youth control their destiny, allowing them to run their own business if they have an entrepreneurial spirit, which is at the heart of what America is all about, he said. 

“We are a country where we give people an opportunity, if they’re wanting to try and willing to try, you get a chance to do it,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s easier, [but] the opportunity in the trades is significantly more than when you went to a four-year college degree and try to start up something on your own. This one is ripe and ready.”

“Most importantly, you feel like you’re building something for this country, because every time you do something, you’re building a home or you’re building a highway or you’re building a factory or a warehouse or you’re building infrastructure, you are making a positive contribution to the society,” he added. 

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