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John Ratzenberger 'Cheers' the American Worker

John Ratzenberger 'Cheers' the American Worker

When John Ratzenberger heads to work on a movie set, it's not the other actors that have him star struck. Instead, he's impressed by all the work that goes into making his job possible.

"I'm aware of the people that built the sets and the people that made the technology for the lens on the camera," said Ratzenberger, best known for his role as mail man Cliff Clavin on "Cheers." "I appreciate the truck drivers who brought all the stuff there. Without them, I wouldn't have a job."

Ratzenberger's appreciation for the importance of laborers of all sorts has taken his career in a totally new direction.

In addition to his work as a performer – he's been in every Pixar movie ever made – he's now the entrepreneur behind an innovative new business concept aimed at addressing the shortage of skilled labor in the United States.

The program, called M.O.S.T., which stands for Mobile Outreach Skills Training, provides on-site training to workers to prepare them for skilled labor jobs.

Specifically, M.O.S.T.'s buses and RV's travel to factories or work sites across the country and, in partnership with the businesses that have retained them, train workers to do the kind of skilled labor needed by the company. Those who complete the two-week training program are guaranteed a job at the company.

Ratzenberger believes the training services are just one step in solving a much larger crisis facing America – a shortage of skilled laborers and a culture that devalues them.

"The average age of skilled workers is around 57 years old," Ratzenberger told BusinessNewsDaily. "They're going to retire and there's no one to replace them. We've all bought into philosophy that everyone's got to go to college. If you take a shop course, you're a dummy."

Ratzenberger believes Americans need to reinvest – financially and culturally – in the value of educating people to work with their hands. Without those workers, he contends, there is no one to support and maintain the country's infrastructure. It's a subject he became particularly interested in after starring in and producing his GAC television series, "John Ratzenberger's Made in America," in which he travelled the country visiting companies that make all sorts of American-made products.

The aim of M.O.S.T., which will travel wherever a factory or company needs help training potential employees, is to restore not only the skills, but dignity, to the blue collar American workforce. Not only that, but the company is able to do it much less expensively and with better results than government sponsored programs.

Ratzenberger said it costs $6,900 to train one employee for two weeks. So, far, 1,000 workers have completed the program and the workplace retention rate is 91  percent. Several of the program's graduates have been promoted to supervisory positions.

The company's goal is aimed at providing the skills training is needed to bridge the gap between the high unemployment rate and the number of companies that say they can't find skilled laborers.

The company's training program has also engaged a large number of veterans, who have found their military training has not translated into the private sector.

"People don't always understand the benefits of hiring a vet," Ratzenberger said.

But, the benefits of training skilled workers go beyond simply helping to address a skills gap. The need for trained, skilled manual laborers is a necessity for any civilized nation, Ratzenberger said.

You can have brain surgeons, he said, but without a plumber to keep the water running, the doctors can't wash their hands. Ratzenberger believes America's very infrastructure and economic base are threatened by the possibility that we won't have enough skilled workers to keep America running in the future.

"Someone has to fix and build and maintain and repair all those things we use every day," Ratzenberger said.

One of M.O.S.T.'s mobile units will be on display this month in New York, when Ratzenberger attends a special premier of Pixar's new movie, "Brave," a fairy tale in which, according to the Pixar web site, a young princess has to "harness all of her skills and resources…to undo a beastly curse before it is too late."

Perhaps Ratzenberger's two career paths aren't as all that different, after all.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.