Gene Haas is a hard-charging, no-nonsense businessman from Oxnard whose approach to problems is to tackle them head-on.
In this case the problem is training a new generation of manufacturing workers where the advanced skills required for the job require far more education than simply a high school diploma.
So, Haas, who made headlines a few years ago when he went to jail rather than settle government tax evasion charges, has put his money behind a plan to close the gap.
He is providing an additional $150,000 in funding to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Foundation to create a series of Gene Haas Scholarships — on top of commitments totaling $550,000.
The idea behind the scholarships is to provide hands-on training so that new workers can learn how to perform in a high-tech manufacturing environment.
Yes, there is a little bit that’s self-serving about this gift. Haas’ flagship company, Haas Automation, is the world’s largest manufacturer of machine tools. Its products are really computer-controlled machining devices, and they are making American workers some of the most productive factory hands in the world.
But to operate a Haas Automation device you need plenty of skills in programming and monitoring the performance of his tools. What is truly altruistic about Haas’ gift to the SME Foundation is that it is being targeted to those areas of the country who have been hit hardest by the recession — places with unemployment rates of between 8 percent and 12 percent.
Ironically, at a time when unemployment is sky high in manufacturing states such as Tennessee and Michigan, the number of technically skilled machinists being trained and certified is projected to be lower than the demand for them in the coming years.
The Gene Haas scholarships are aimed specifically at adult learners or people who are returning to school to learn new skills. Making America more competitive on the global state will take new and vastly improved skills on the factory floor.
That’s why it is laudable that an industrialist like Gene Haas is putting his own money into crafting a solution.