I recently had the distinct pleasure of meeting and talking with John Ratzenberger, the actor from Cheers, the voice of the pig in Toy Story, and also a sailor, an inveterate inventor, and a singer of old, sad sailor songs as my friend Mary described him to me. He is the inventor of the Ecopack and the packaging machinery to produce it, and many other inventions, as well.
It turns out that John is an advocate of returning vocational training to high schools. People who can make things with their hands, fix and repair, invent something on a workbench rather than on a computer monitor, are a dying breed. Their average age is 56. His mission, and I agree, is that we need a new generation of inventors, builders, experimenters, and tinkerers, which perhaps You Tube is just now beginning to inspire.
Ten years ago, when we contacted Chicago’s great vocational high schools looking for possible part-time student help for our toy shop, we were out of luck. All the great trade schools in Chicago, like Lane Tech (an enormous school with a student body greater than the population of town I grew up in), were now college prep schools. There seemed to be no vocational high school education in all of the great City of Chicago. Impossible!
Today, it is companies like Lund and Company and others in the toy industry that train young inventors in the hand-on skills needed to be successful in the world.
I am proud to have trained many who have since gone on to work in the industry far and near.
Many things must be first made by hand, experimentally, by tinkering and trying, testing, experimenting interactively – the Edisonian process. It requires hand skills, knowledge, and skills using tools and equipment. There is no other way for some things to come into being. It is like scientific research. It is not done in solid works – that is for design and engineering.
Invention is a hands-on sport using milling machines, lathes, saws, drills, vacuformers, mold-making and casting, soldering and welding, as well as more modern tools like 3D printers (I sure would like one of those for Christmas, Santa, Bill Gates, or whoever is listening) and CNC machines. Industrial-Age tools have no replacement today.
So I say, "Go John Ratzenberger, Go!" I agree, I will back you, and maybe I can help in some way. We need those who can build, invent, repair, tinker, create on the workbench surface those things that cannot, and will not, come into being any other way.