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2022: Skilled Trades Education Soaring to New Heights

Los Angeles, CA

2022: Skilled Trades Education Soaring to New Heights

In the past year, there has been strong momentum building around efforts to provide new hands-on opportunities for public high school students to learn about the skilled trades. With the United States facing a daunting shortage of skilled trades workers, it seems there is growing interest in rapidly expanding our ability to train the next generation of skilled trades professionals.

Our colleagues at the Partnership Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA) started the year by announcing they would focus on three high-impact priorities:

  • Increase support for intermediary organizations, which work with educators to align instruction provided to students to the workforce needs of the community.
  • Connect innovative leaders from across trades education and training networks so they can share ideas, strategies, and resources.
  • Build an expanded research and evidence database to advance our understanding of what drives success in work-based learning and identify the most effective approaches to meet industry needs.

Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is proud to support these efforts by PAYA, which is an initiative of the New America Foundation.

In March, the application period for the sixth annual Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence started. The total amount of cash prizes awarded increased to $1.25 million and the number of prizewinners jumped from 18 to 20. This year, a record 768 teachers applied from all 50 states for the first time.

Also in March, the FDR Group issued an independent evaluation of the prize showing that it has a significant and lasting impact on teachers, their programs and communities. These interviews with three prizewinning teachers focus on the impact the prize had on them and their schools.

During the prize application process, applicants viewed learning modules presented by past prizewinners. Justin Pickard presented about Building Communities Through the Skilled Trades and Scott Burke shared innovative practices about Unlocking Learning Through Core Collaborations.

This summer more than 200 students had the opportunity to earn high-value industry-based credentials and get paid through Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Los Angeles County Skilled Trades Summers programs. The students participated in hands-on classes in welding, construction, automotive repair, and solar installation at five sites across Los Angeles County. It was the second year of the program, which was covered in this story in The 74 Million: Los Angeles Skilled Trades Program Mixes Summer Jobs and Training All in One Summer program teaches youth construction, solar, auto repair skills — and pays them too.

We learned a lot on the road in 2022, traveling to the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference in Atlanta, SEMA in Las Vegas and the American General Contractors (AGC) Summit in Phoenix. We also visited prizewinning teachers in Mississippi, Wisconsin and Illinois.

In July, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools’ prizewinning teachers gathered in Colorado for Let’s Build It. The main objective of the annual convening is to produce creative ideas that could dramatically improve and ripple through skilled trades teaching and learning. The agenda included visits to two prizewinning teachers’ high schools in the Denver area and leadership development workshops facilitated by the Drucker Institute from Claremont Graduate University.

We loved supporting and hearing about how our prizewinning teachers and their students are making a positive difference in their communities. This year several of them launched “Better Together” projects to leverage student’s talents in the skilled trades to improve their local communities.

Favorite stories include:

In October, we surprised 20 public high school skilled trades teachers in 15 states with the news that they had been named winners of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.


Below are some of our favorite news stories about our prizewinning teachers:

This fall, prizewinners shared best practices in two webinars. First up was Contextual Learning: Techniques to Break Down Siloed, Disconnected Learning, presented by prizewinning teacher, Scott Burke. Next was Student-Led Community Impact Projects, which featured presentations from three prizewinning teachers, Jay Abitz, Brian Copes and Randy Williamson.



We also would like to salute the following Harbor Freight Tools for Schools grantees and their achievements in 2022:

  • Big Picture Learning – 194 Harbor Freight Fellows matched with mentors for skill trades apprenticeships
  • CTE Foundation Sonoma County – Through a collaboration with YouthTruth, they surveyed 60,457 high school students and learned that work-based learning significantly increases all engagement and career readiness measures.
  • Real World Scholars – Nineteen skilled trades classroom-based enterprises generated more than $10,000 in profits to donate back to their communities.


Upcoming Webinars: Save The Dates

Skilled Trades Education on the Move: Building a Mobile Learning Lab
Tuesday, February 7, 2023 – 6 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Central, 4 p.m. Mountain, 3 p.m. Pacific

Transform Your Skilled Trades Classroom into a Business
Tuesday, April 25, 2023 – 6 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Central, 4 p.m. Mountain, 3 p.m. Pacific

If you would like to keep up with Harbor Freight Tools for Schools news and events, please sign up for The Toolkit newsletter and follow our social channels @hftforschools on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Lastly, we’d like to pay special tribute to Gary Weese, who passed away this year. In 2021, Gary was named a winner of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. Gary was an automotive technology instructor at Caddo Career & Technology Center in Shreveport, Louisiana for 22 years. After a long career in automotive repair, Gary toured his local Career Center and discovered that the program was not aligned with current automotive standards and was missing an instructor. Drawing on his years of experience in the automotive industry and training in the United States Air Force, he made the jump to teaching. Gary was one of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools first advisors and an incredibly generous and kind man. Here’s a quote from Gary’s prize application:

“I love to see a student’s eyes light up with excitement as they obtain mastery over an automotive task. Now that’s great, but let’s add some more excitement to this by having them train other students how to do the task they just mastered.”

Sending best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a very happy and healthy new year.