Harbor Freight Tools is a privately held discount tool and equipment retailer with headquarters in Calabasas, California. It operates more than 900 stores in 47 states, including 11 locations in Minnesota, stretching from Duluth to Rochester. Despite its massive size, I must admit I wasn’t familiar with it until the other day, though that’s in keeping with how the only things I do with my hands are eat and type.
The event that led me to learn about Harbor Freight was an announcement by its founder, Eric Smidt, about how it had recently awarded more than a million dollars to skilled-trade teachers in high school across the country; prize money shared with their schools’ skilled trades programs. That broke down to three first-place prizes of a $100,000 and 15 second-place prizes of $50,000, with the company gearing up to give away another million dollars. Why, exactly? Smidt writes:
“I have a special place in my heart for skilled trades teachers, especially those who teach in high school. We depend on skilled trades workers. They fix the cars we drive, they build and repair the homes we live in and they do so much more. Yet more than 1.5 million skilled trades workers will retire by 2024, and there are not nearly enough students entering the trades to fill those jobs. Even at Harbor Freight Tools, as we’re building and opening two new stores every week, we struggle to find enough skilled electricians, carpenters, plumbers and HVAC technicians.”
Suffice it to say, the “Harbor Freight Tools Prize for Teaching Excellence,” is an exceedingly wise and generous program, aligned perfectly with Center of the American Experiment’s “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” project. With Smidt’s estimate of more than a million-and-a-half men and women in the trades retiring over the next half-dozen years seemingly consistent with the 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, for years to come, that that my colleagues and I have been writing and warning about.
It’s easy to insufficiently appreciate the essential role played by highly skilled teachers who train new, highly skilled people in the trades. Harbor Freight’s prize is a much-appreciated counterweight.