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Schools are improving access to manufacturing and business skills courses in a bid to boost the workforce


Organizations, companies and manufacturing groups strive to increase the skilled workforce. Most efforts start with the younger generation.

“A lot of kids don’t want to go to college,” said NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty. “It’s a vocation that you can live decently and that will always have a job.”

Petty and motorcycle builder Billy Lane are teaming up with Northern Tool + Equipment to help a younger generation take interest in their expertise. The Tools for Trades program provides high school students with skills training and mentoring. Northern Tool also donates professional grade tools to course participants.

“They have to get out there, tackle something they’ve never done before, challenge themselves and achieve it,” Lane said. “I think that’s one of the lessons we’ll teach them with this skill is that this is the path to success.”

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This year, two high schools in Minnesota are participating in the program. They will build a go-kart throughout the school year as part of their car lessons. Lane and Petty will mentor students throughout the course.

“There wouldn’t have been Richard Petty, race car driver, without the kids we’re trying to reach,” Petty said.

Petty has won more NASCAR Cup Series than any other driver. He credits some of that success to those who built his cars.

“A lot of the boys that work for us, especially when I started, didn’t have any mechanical degrees behind them or anything. They just came to the farm and said, ‘Hey, we want to go work on a racing car'”, Petty says. “They were the ones who did most of it, working on a race car and making it capable of winning races.”

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Wade Kotula of Northern Tool says that since starting the Tools for the Trades program he has partnered with 19 schools.

“It’s a drop in the national ocean, but we’re trying to step up and partner with great people like Billy and Richard, who also share our passion for the trades,” Kotula said. “Our mission is to keep moving forward and collaborating and there may be some unique projects in the future.”

Northern Tool has approximately 130 stores in the United States. Kotula says he has seen labor shortages in manufacturing firsthand.

“We work with tradespeople every day,” Kotula said. “That’s why we’re trying to do our part to take a step in the right direction and reverse this trend.”


The number of manufacturing workers aged 45 to 54 has fallen slightly in recent years. Young workers have begun to fill this gap. The number of workers aged 20 to 34 has increased slightly over the past decade. The president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers says more and more young people are starting to attend trade schools. More and more high schools are also offering business and manufacturing programs.

“It’s a workshop course, supercharged,” Timmons said. “It’s really like saying, ‘Hey, if you want to see what manufacturing looks like, come take this class and be part of this potential opportunity.'”

Zachary Humphrey is an automotive teacher at Minneapolis Public Schools. He says having specialized courses, abundant resources and valuable mentorship can be life-changing for students.

“It’s a key aspect of a young person’s life. That mentorship is going to be very important from Billy and Richard. It’s going to be something we’ll remember forever,” Humphrey said.

Luther Kominski also teaches automotive at MPS. He says the resources for his courses and the number of students enrolled have increased over time.

Schools are improving access to manufacturing and business skills courses in a bid to boost the workforce

(David Jensen/Getty Images)

“It’s been a pretty consistent build since we’ve been here, and we’re really excited about where it’s going,” Kominski said. “Courses are taking up more and more space.”

Approximately 220 MPS students attend automotive courses.

“The reason I joined the automotive program is because I like working with my hands,” said student Luis Torres. “This program has really opened up opportunities for me…We get credits while we take these classes that are going to transfer to college.”


Student Ashe Rasche signed up for automotive lessons to learn how to fix her own car. The lessons later inspired her to consider a career in automotive manufacturing.

“I wanted to have my own knowledge, if I ever broke down on the road,” Rasche said. “Participating in the program piqued my interest, which made me want to go to trade school as well.”

Humphrey says all elements of the school district’s vocational and technical curriculum are growing.

“It’s not just about fixing cars. There are opportunities in car customization, car painting, estimated parts sales, delivery. And I mean, the list goes on and on of jobs in the technical trade that support hands-on positions,” Humphrey said. “We can find employment in the industry for almost all of our children if they are interested.”

Schools are improving access to manufacturing and business skills courses in a bid to boost the workforce

School buses seen in a parking lot. (Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Manufacturing jobs pay an average of six figures and offer many career path options.

“If you’re thinking about curing this next disease or if you’re thinking about finding a way to launch that next probe into space, it will tell us things we need to know about our universe,” Timmons said. “Or if you’re trying to solve the climate crisis, all of those things can only be done through manufacturing, because we’re the innovators and we’re the ones delivering the solutions.”

Petty says programs like Tools for the Trade help show kids how to do a long-term project and produce great results.

“When you build something, you’re like an artist,” Petty said. “You get satisfaction from being able to take a bunch of metal or a bunch of different cars and then put them together and make them work.”


The students started school this week and will soon get to work building their go-karts. They will race the finished cars in June.

“We will mentor them over a period of about 8 to 10 months during the 2023-2024 school year,” Lane said. “I still remember being in that position and I remember that feeling, that same excitement. They’re so excited to be able to take that journey.”