Here’s an organization tradespeople can get behind.

I came across the Nuts & Bolts And Thingamajigs Foundation (NBTF) quite by accident, and in a way that speaks volumes about the need for such an organization. It’s a shame more people in our industry haven’t heard of it, and this is a shortcoming I’m happy to use this editorial platform to help alleviate.

NBTF exists to celebrate and promote working with one’s hands. Its mission, in its own words, “is to avert a growing crisis in America, one that is occurring because too few young people now develop the kind of manual skills required by industries, workshops and engineering practices. Through mentoring programs, education and media awareness, NBTF will once again introduce young people to the pleasures of tinkering. And in that way, we will create the next generation of artisans, inventors, engineers, repairmen and skilled workers - in short, a self-sufficient, self-sustaining society.”

NBTF was founded by actor John Ratzenberger, best known as Cliff on the TV program “Cheers.” Ratzenberger, like the sitcom, is a champion of American manufacturing and blue collar trades. He gets resounding cheers from this corner, though I wish he could persuade more of his Hollywood cronies to sign on to his crusade. Alas, the vast majority of people in the performing arts relate to the blue collar crowd only through the imaginary characters they portray in movies and TV. Otherwise, we are from Earth while they exist in a bejeweled galaxy far, far away in time and space - and even farther removed in values.

Browse around the NBTF Web site at www.nutsandboltsfoundation.org and you’ll find a variety of programs intended to fulfill the organization’s mission. One is a grant program offering funds to not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions capable of offering overnight or day camp experiences in summer 2009 that introduce young people to careers in manufacturing and engineering.

The grants are a collaborative effort between NBTF and the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Foundation. Camps must target young people between 12 and 16 years old. (While the news media focuses on the loss of mainly unskilled factory jobs to overseas competition, the reality is that U.S. manufacturers face a critical skilled labor shortage of people capable of operating and maintaining the sophisticated automated machinery that enables many U.S. producers to remain competitive globally.)

I would be thrilled to plant the seed in suggesting that a similar camp introducing teens to the pipe trades would be a suitable endeavor for persons and organizations with an interest in recruiting young people to this industry. Visit www.nutsandboltsfoundation.org and start asking how you can get involved. Or call the office in Westlake Village, Calif., at 805/494-5200. The NBTF Web site includes a section titled “Ways to Give.” Check it out and consider lending assistance in any way you can.

Be sure to click on the “For Tradesmen” button as well. There you’ll be greeted by a message from John Ratzenberger, which reads in part:
    “Welcome, Tradesmen!

    “To the men and women who work with their hands, who strive through hard work, skill and devotion to make this a better country. We applaud and thank you!  

    “From Franklin to Edison to Carver to Ford, all great inventors have shared one thing in common: as children, they had all been inveterate tinkers.

    “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.

    “This has been, quite literally, both the history of American business and the history of America.

    “We owe our collective greatness, in large measure, to the greatness of individuals whose curiosities and fascinations compelled them to imagine and then build what had never been imagined and built. And they were capable of that, thanks to the seeds planted by their own hands as young tinkers …

    “I can think of no enterprise more worthy than one devoted to kids tinkering. I hope you'll follow the links and learn how to get your children started working with their hands. Together, we can build a healthy future for all of us. Future inventors and engineers of America, unite!”

    ~ John Ratzenberger
Stirring words, and there aren’t too many organizations outside of the blue collar trades themselves that bother to express such sentiments and put time and money where their mouths are.

Now it’s time to put such words into action.

Links