The mission of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is to increase understanding, support, and investment in skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools. The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence is one strategy HFTFS has put in place to tackle this mission. Since the prize’s inception in 2016, thousands have applied for it, more than 80 high schools and skilled trades instructors have won the award, and there are more than 200 additional skilled trades instructors who were named as finalists in the competition.
In 2021, HFTFS commissioned the nonpartisan and independent FDR Group to conduct a program evaluation to gain a better understanding of the impact of the prize on public high schools, teachers, and students. And, to the extent possible, to determine whether the prize is tied to a greater appreciation of skilled trades education not only within high schools but also the wider community.
The findings in this report are based on both qualitative and quantitative research methods including online surveys conducted with Winners, Finalists, and Principals from prize-winning schools; and virtual focus groups and in-depth interviews with Winners, Finalists, and Principals, as well as former students and local business partners.
The FDR Group was responsible for moderating the virtual focus groups and conducting the in-depth interviews, crafting the survey instruments, programming the questionnaires, collecting the data, analyzing the results, and writing this report. The FDR Group was granted freedom in the design and implementation of this research, as well as editorial freedom in presenting the findings in this report.
What follows are: the highlights of the findings; a description of the methods used; the detailed findings; and summary tables.
Highlights of the Findings
There is strong and consistent evidence that the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence is producing meaningful positive change in skilled trades education. The impact encompasses high schools, students (and their parents), skilled trades teachers, community colleges that provide post-secondary skilled trades training, and local businesses that are relying on a pipeline of highly-qualified skilled trades workers.
According to the Winners, Finalists, and Principals surveyed for this program evaluation:
- Majorities of Winners, Finalists, and Principals give the prize a rating of 8 or higher (on a scale of 0-to-10) when it comes to the prize’s effectiveness in increasing public awareness about the value of high-quality skilled trades instruction in high schools (Winners 71%; Finalists 53%; Principals 81%).
- Approximately 9 in 10 Winners say that due to the prize, they feel they have a responsibility to advocate about the importance of skilled trades education (87%) and they feel more energized and passionate about what they do (91%).
- Solid majorities of Winners are more confident about taking on leadership responsibilities (64%); have become more involved in local, state, or regional CTE activities (55%); and are more comfortable with public speaking or talking with the media (53%).
- More than 7 in 10 Winners say that winning the prize contributed to improvement in their school’s ability to attract prospective students (75%) and in parents’ willingness to consider a skilled trades pathway for their child (71%).
- Almost 3 in 4 Winners believe that the prize contributed to an increase in the number of students who want to enroll in their classes (73%), and more than half believe that the prize was a factor in increasing the number of nontraditional students taking skilled trades classes in their high school (54%).
- Regarding their relationship with the local business community, majorities of Winners have observed:
- an increase in local businesses initiating contact to talk about collaborating (71%);
- an increase in the number or quality of work-based learning opportunities available to students (63%);
- an increase in the number or quality of opportunities for students to learn about careers available at local businesses (62%);
- an increase in the number of local business leaders who voice support for skilled trades programs in high schools (62%);
- greater collaboration with local businesses to develop and align skilled trades offerings to meet business needs (62%);
- an increase in the number of local businesses that donate equipment and the like to their schools (58%);
- better alignment of their skilled trades curriculum with the needs of local businesses (54%);
- Two in three Winners believe that winning the prize contributed to improvement in their high school’s ability to attract new partnerships with local businesses or community colleges (67%); a majority says the relationship between their high school and local community colleges has strengthened (56%).
- One-hundred percent of Finalists and Principals agree with the statement: “The prize will lift up and support excellent teachers and teaching.”
- Majorities of Finalists and Principals also agree with the statements:
- “The prestige that comes along with the prize will cultivate business partnerships and help open doors for students” (Finalists 77%; Principals 94%); and
- “The prize will help remove the stigma around skilled trades classes and jobs around the country” (Finalists 80%; Principals 88%).