Former 'Cheers' star advocates for manufacturing jobs

10/03/2014 by Karen Dandurant

NEW CASTLE -When John Ratzenberger spoke at the Wentworth By The Sea Hotel Thursday night, it was about a topic he feels very passionate about, that being how important it is for this country to recognize the need for, and to provide the training to produce skilled laborers.

Before he was a star on the sitcom “Cheers,” and before he went on to other roles that included being a voice in every Pixar movie ever made, Ratzenberger had a number of jobs, among them as a journeyed carpenter.

His most recent stint has been as the producer and star of the show “Made in America,” featured on the Travel Channel.

“My mother used to give us old radios and toasters, with the cords cut off,” said Ratzenberger. “She told us to take them apart. Growing up, everyone we knew could make something, knew how to fix things. We are losing that and we need to get it back.”

Ratzenberger was the featured speaker at Great Bay Community College’s “Advanced Manufacturing’s Night Out,” their third annual Distinguished Leaders Awards night and fundraiser.

Proceeds from the annual event, about $400,000, go to support scholarships for Great Bay Community College students enrolled at the college’s Portsmouth campus and its new Advanced Technology & Academic Center in Rochester, which offers industry-based programs in advanced composites manufacturing developed in partnership with Albany Engineered Composites and Safran Aerospace Composites.

To date, 168 students have received over $335,500 in scholarship from funds raised at the annual event.

Ratzenberger talked about growing up in a thriving factory town. He likened the sights and sounds of his childhood to the crickets and bullfrogs of a farm family’s life.

“Kids today are not making things,” he said. “Instead they are going to college to get degrees and can’t get a job. There are plenty of jobs out there. We just need to teach kids the skills. Many today, do not even know how to use simple tools, hammers and screwdrivers. Manufacturers say they can’t even read a ruler. How are they going to build airplanes?”

The average age of today’s skilled laborer is 58, said Ratzenberger. He wonders what will happen when they all retire.

“I did a talk at a high school and asked how many were going to college,” said Ratzenberger. “Everyone raised their hand, except one boy. I asked what he was going to do and he said he was going to be an auto mechanic. The kids laughed. I said laugh, but you are going to college and will come out in great debt. He will already own a house and you will be paying him to fix your car.”

Ratzenberger said kids need to go out and play, and schools need to return to shop classes.

“When we played outside, we learned problem solving,” he said. “We fixed our own bikes. We built a tree house. We need to bring back dignity and respect to the people who work with their hands.”

Ratzenberger called the manufacturing programs at GBCC a hope for the future, a chance for kids to get good paying jobs, doing decent, honest work.

In May 2012, Great Bay Community College opened the Advanced Technology & Academic Center in Rochester to offer traditional academic programs as well as a certificate program in Advanced Composites Manufacturing. ATAC is the largest single project under the statewide Advanced Manufacturing Partnership in Education initiative formed by the Community College System of New Hampshire under the federal TAACCCT-NH grant, with a $19.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration.

Paul Holloway, chairman of the Community College System Board of Trustees, said that no better investment can be made in New Hampshire’s future than to support students at community colleges. He said that 95 percent of the students attending are state residents, who become the backbone of the state’s skilled workforce.

“Our students are from all walks of life - young students just starting out, career changers, veterans, those with advanced degrees that come to us for the training to get jobs in a shifting economy,” said Holloway. “The best part is, our graduates stay in New Hampshire. They become economic contributors and future leaders.”

During the event, Sig Sauer, and Ratzenberger were presented with this year’s Distinguished Leaders Award. Sig Sauer has partnered with GBCC by providing space in their Newington headquarters for a CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) lab to train CNC operators for them as well as other companies, in an eight-week boot camp.

Ron Goslin, vice president of operations at Sig Sauer said his company believes it is important to encourage advanced manufacturing because it allows America to be more competitive Internationally.

“The students in the boot camp learn on simulators so they don’t crash our multi-million dollar machines,” said Goslin. “They also learn inspection skills, how to read blueprints and to make parts. Every student who has come out of this program has gotten a job.”

In introducing Ratzenberger, Jackie Eastwood, event chair, read a Tweet put out by Ratzenberger that seemed to sum up the night.

“I am afraid of a world that is going to be run by adults, who, as kids, got awards just for participating.”

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