is the President and CEO of K’NEX Brands
, L.P. K’NEX Brands has two primary business units, K’NEX, LPG (the toy manufacturing, marketing, design and distribution company) and The Rodon Group (a highly automated plastics injection molder with a focus on small parts used in over 100 industries, including food, beverage, windows, consumer packaged goods, construction and toys). K’NEX is distributed to over 40 countries, and over 95% of the component parts are made at The Rodon Group.
Founded in 1992, K’NEX Brands, the world’s most innovative construction toy company, was established to make and sell what has become one of the world’s leading integrated construction systems for children. From the living room to the classroom, K’NEX has building toys specially designed for every age group and skill level.
Prior to joining K’NEX in 2005, Araten served as Chief Litigation Counsel to Toll Brothers, Inc. as well as Senior Vice President and Corporate Counsel to O’Neill Properties Group. In those capacities he was responsible for risk management, regulatory approvals, human resource issues and the management of over 100 law firms in 21 states.
As President and CEO, Araten is responsible for all strategic and day to day operations of the company, and is a member of the K’NEX Board of Directors. He speaks regularly on topics including advanced manufacturing, the toy industry, re-shoring, global competitiveness, entrepreneurship and innovation and has appeared on CNBC, CNN, Bloomberg News and Fox Business News.
Mr. Araten holds a B.A. in Political Science from Stanford University, and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a member of Vistage, SMARTCEO and CEOintronet.
He resides in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania with his wife, Ellen and their two children.
Why do you believe STEM Education/workforce development are critical to our nation's future?
STEM is the heart of innovation. Innovation drives growth, profits & the roles of the future. There are 1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs in the US today. These jobs are unfilled because the employers can’t find people with the required skills. Manufacturing has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, with skilled jobs requiring computer skills, robotics and the ability to understand and operate complex equipment.
STEM Education and workforce development provide students today with the skills they’ll need to obtain good jobs in the future—the very skills that employers need. Without tech-savvy workers, the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs will increase.
At K’NEX & Rodon,
we’ve seen firsthand the resurgence of local manufacturing, with a migration of business to China during the 1980's and 1990's. As wages increased in China and the price of transportation rises, companies are returning to manufacturing in the States. Speed to market is a huge advantage and a domestic supply chain is key to that speed.
Our investment in advanced technology and more efficient equipment has given us a competitive edge over overseas manufacturers, so we are well poised in this new economic environment. We need employees who have the ability to use this technology.
Today's sophisticated manufacturing environment requires a higher degree of skill adaptability and entrepreneurial spirit from its employees.
How do you believe STEM education can improve a nation's competitiveness?
All across the country, skilled manufacturing workers are in great demand. These jobs are solid, well-paying, long-term careers. STEM education prepares students for these careers. STEM education fosters critical thought, science literacy and innovation. Innovation requires education. Workers with STEM credentials are better educated. In 2011, 53 percent of all manufacturing workers had at least some college education, up from 43 percent in 1994. Source: U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration.
STEM educated workers with less than a bachelor's degree still enjoyed greater earnings (more than 30%) compared to those without STEM education at . Each manufacturing job supports as an average of 2.9 other jobs in the economy. A commitment to developing future generations of innovators must become a priority of the federal government, public and private industry and educational institutions.
Beyond Standards, what are the first steps we should take to curb the STEM education crisis?
Progress proceeds at the speed of trust, so we, (businesses, educators, and government), need to collaborate to build the trust required as a foundation of STEM to take root and grow. Corporations need to work with educational institutions to insure that STEM programs that align training and education with anticipated workforce needs are being developed and implemented in Pre-K through high school classrooms.
For example, The Rodon Group
has developed its own apprenticeship program. Students are given the opportunity to learn tool and die making in a hands-on environment. These future industrial technologists must have a strong background in math and science skills. Coursework in metal working and machining is also very desirable. From there, Rodon will help develop the manufacturing skills needed for tomorrow's innovative manufacturing environment.
We are also a founding member of The Bux-Mont Manufacturing Consortium, a group of local manufacturing companies Bucks and Montgomery Counties, working to advance the STEM skills and education needed for the future.
What do corporations need to do to create more STEM careers and fill existing jobs?
Corporations need to lead by example and show the pathways of opportunity. K’NEX and Rodon actively work with local community colleges and technical schools to make sure students—prospective employees—are getting the skills they need to work at companies like ours. Anyone who intends upon using manufacturing equipment as part of their career needs math and computer skills.
Many companies nationwide are currently working short-handed because it is hard to find workers with the skills they need. By partnering with local schools we are taking an active role in training potential future employees, ultimately ensuring that we can fill job openings with skilled workers.
Students in the programs we work with get the math, science and computer skills they’ll need for jobs that entail building and operating robots. When they begin working at our facility, they learn the manufacturing process, which we run with computers and robots. As our workforce gets older and people retire, we need a pipeline of highly trained people ready to step in. By partnering with schools, we become the employer of choice.
What is the STEM initiative that your company has supported are you most proud?
We are America’s only building STEM solution. We design and provide over 25 K’NEX Education STEM sets for classroom use. Each set provides a complete STEM solution, focusing on STEM concepts taught in sequences that build upon each other and have real-world applications. Teacher guides include inquiry-based lessons that challenge students as they build, investigate, problem solve, discuss, and evaluate scientific and design principles in action. It is literally innovation in action.
This hands-on, inter-disciplinary approach gives students the skills and knowledge they need to become lifelong learners who can solve problems, think critically, work collaboratively and adapt to change in today’s technologically evolving world.