John Ratzenberger Delivers an Ode to Tinkering

John Ratzenberger, the Emmy-nominated actor, director, author, and skilled carpenter, as he is proud to reveal, extolled the virtues of a childhood of unfettered tinkering in his keynote speech at the opening ceremonies for ManufacturingNJ Week, held Monday on the NJIT campus.

“We’ve raised a generation of children who are useless … in the use of tools,” observed Ratzenberger, who began professional life as a carpenter before he took on acting roles such as Cliff the mail carrier in the NBC sitcom “Cheers” and Hamm the piggy bank in the “Toy Story” movies. He harked back to a world in which children were allowed to become “problem solvers” by using tools, building things, and understanding fundamentally that “our whole lives depend on someone’s ability to put a nut in a bolt.”

“If you were 10 miles away from home and your bicycle chain broke, you couldn’t call Mom,” he recalled in a humorous speech Monday morning at the Campus Center Atrium to an audience of business owners, entrepreneurs, state labor and workforce development officials, university professors and administrators, university and high school students, among others.

In his “Made in America” series broadcast on cable television’s Travel Channel, Ratzenberger treks across the country in a camper to learn the inner workings of American manufacturing companies including Fender Electric Guitars and the Wilson football factory. He is also a senior fellow with Center for America, which focuses on social justice with an emphasis on employment.

“If Steve Jobs had owned an iPhone when he was young, Steve Jobs would not have invented the iPhone,” he opined. “He started out with his dad working on cars.”

Manufacturing NJ Week is a weeklong series of events designed to showcase the importance of manufacturing to the state’s economy, key contributions from Garden State companies, and ongoing efforts on the part of colleges and universities, businesses, and government agencies to nurture and promote a skilled workforce.

The events have been organized by the Advanced Manufacturing Talent Network (MNJ), a workforce development organization hosted by NJIT and funded by a grant from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and partners such as the NJ Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP).

Staff from the NJIT-hosted talent network meet with manufacturers, assess their skills needs, and communicate those needs to educators to both develop supporting curricula and convince young people and job seekers to consider careers in advanced manufacturing. The manufacturing extension program is a not-for-profit company that works with New Jersey’s small to mid-sized manufacturers to help them become more efficient, profitable and globally competitive.

“It is the work of the Advanced Manufacturing Talent Network and the New Jersey MEP to accelerate change in our state and to show what they can do with the help of all of you here,” said Gale Tenen Spak, associate vice president for continuing and distance education at NJIT. “Manufacturing is making a comeback in New Jersey.”

Advanced manufacturing, which relies on innovative technology and design to improve products and processes, will be a point of emphasis over the course of the week.

“There is a bad stereotype that we need to convert – that manufacturing takes place in a production-line environment,” noted Ray Vaccari, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Talent Network.

Indeed, NJIT President Joel S. Bloom pointed to student-designed devices such as a ‘painless needle’ that numbs a patient’s skin before the injection and a toy that helps children with Autism Spectrum Disorder learn, while analyzing their cognitive abilities, as illustrations of what can be achieved by young people today in an environment that encourages innovation.

“Students invented these devices – undergraduates in the state of New Jersey,” he noted.

Other events taking place this week include tours of New Jersey manufacturing facilities, a visit to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park by local high school students, and a discussion on Oct. 1 led by Mary Gatta, ethnographic sociologist, about her book, All I Want Is a Job!: Unemployed Women Navigating the Public Workforce System. On Friday, Oct. 3, ManufactureNJ Week will culminate with a celebration of National Manufacturing Day at The Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset, NJ, with an event featuring networking opportunities, keynote speeches and panel discussions on topics including workforce development, recruiting and retention, innovation and growth and supply chain and logistics.

To learn more, visit

To read the original article, click here.

Request Your Complimentary Assessment

Schedule Now