Making and fixing things with your hands is a dying art in America, as I see it. Based on lessons I learned from creative play as a child, we've made "be creative and work with your hands" into a national campaign to save the American skilled workforce.
As a child, I tinkered with toys, boats and radios. I learned at the feet of my parents and neighbors in Bridgeport, Conn., one of the nation's manufacturing hubs. My curiosity and the old-fashioned work ethic taught by my family and neighbors turned into a career as a carpenter, innovator and entrepreneur, never losing my love of hands-on productive play.
As I began production of my Travel Channel series, "Made In America," the celebration of "skilled work" quickly revealed a national crisis. When kids are no longer encouraged to explore and create worlds of their own, we wind up with a culture that casts a slanted view toward essential skilled work. Every major sector of our nation's economy requires creative, skilled workers to produce and innovate -- and we're facing a severe shortage of those essential workers as a result.
I am currently working on a national campaign called the "10 By 20 Pledge for America," promoting skills training for 10 million skilled jobs by 2020. While technical training and ending cultural biases against working with your hands are keys to solving the worker crisis, it is equally important to emphasize that critical life lessons -- including forming a self-reliant and creative personality -- start with child's play that should be encouraged.
I delight in working with young inventors. Creative play opens doors for young people to dream and invent. I'm amazed every year at the level of detail and insight that young inventors bring to the table. Special project kits now on the market give families the chance to spur this "dream it, do it" mindset. Every contest winner with whom I talk confirms that they played with toys and, later, tools when they were young. They learned that they could create their own worlds, where boundaries were set only by the obstacles they hit while at play.
This national campaign to reaffirm the need and value for skilled work stems from my childhood tinkering. As a kid, I knew I could fix my bike when it broke, which meant I could get home from wherever I wandered. Can you imagine where America would be -- and can be again -- if each of us had that same self-reliance and "can-do" expectation that many of us learned as children at play? Every young inventor can imagine it.
Parents, I suggest that you carve out creative, hands-on playtime for young children. When they reach the middle school and high school years, their creative play will need bigger outlets -- which leads us to the hundreds of excellent skills programs and camps available across America. You can find a number of these resources through our website at www.centerforamerica.org.
And to young people, I urge you to seek out opportunities to build, craft, invent and tinker. The good news is that well-paid, secure careers await you if you follow this path. America needs you. There are education and training opportunities everywhere, so work with your parents and mentors to find them in your communities. I can promise you won't regret it!
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