Snap-on, a publicly traded designer and manufacturer of tools, equipment and systems solutions, was founded in 1920. Since then, the Kenosha, Wisc., company has survived the Great Depression, the Great Recession and an ongoing labor gap in the mechanical trades that has hounded other firms. So how has the S&P 500 company — with an estimated worth of more than $2.5 billion — managed when others are struggling to fill key technical positions? Does Frederick Brookhouse, Snap-on’s business and education partnership manager, even still believe there is a labor shortage?

“Yes,” Brookhouse says, adding that “this is not a new thing. I’ve been in these conversations for 30 years. … It’s really been driven by a very rapid growth of technology, which is not slowing down, if anything it’s increasing.” Technical education, he says, is not keeping pace.

Brookhouse says the problems relating to insufficient numbers of skilled laborers are systemic, ongoing and political, and they go all the way back to at least the middle-school age. Too many parents, he says, are of the mindset that “I’m not going to fund technical education because I want my child to be a doctor. Well, they can’t all be doctors. And frankly, they don’t [all] want to be doctors.”

Young learners need to be taught that “technical, skilled people are valuable and they have good jobs.” That’s a message that has been lost, recently, and without that drive, education institutions won’t have the students to turn into tomorrow’s machinists, designers and skilled laborers. Community colleges and technical schools, Brookhouse says, have to create an attractive, up-to-the-minute modern environment, and for that, they need help.

“We actually have, as a corporation, taken this on as a part of our responsibility to … assist in the process of training,” Brookhouse says. “We help educational institutions own and possess the latest technology, so students are trained on relevant products in the workforce today. Two, we’ve also invested heavily in helping the instructors train and be qualified… .”

Each company, each industry, is largely responsible for its own workforce, Brookhouse says, and “[employers] need to engage and take some responsibility and not just turn their backs on this.”

Read more of Frederick Brookhouse’s thoughts on the skilled labor force gap and how to fix it, in EBN April 15.

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