Grants ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 are now available to nonprofit camps that introduce young people to careers in manufacturing and engineering.

The grants are a collaborative effort between the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Foundation and the Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation, founded by John Ratzenberger.

The actor, who is best known as “Cliff Clavin” on NBC’s 1980s comedy “Cheers,” has been a champion of American manufacturing. His charitable organization is dedicated to introducing young people to the joys of tinkering and inspiring the next generation of skilled engineers and inventors. The FMA Foundation is an educational, research and charitable organization that promotes metal forming and fabricating technology in manufacturing.

Association officials report that the purpose of the manufacturing camps is to provide a positive, hands-on experience so young people will consider manufacturing as a future career option. Camps must target young people between 12 and 16 years old. Preference will be given to organizations serving minority populations. The application deadline is Dec. 12.

 “There is a demographic shift in the U.S. work force caused by retiring baby boomers, and the manufacturing sector is already feeling the impact,” Ratzenberger said. “There is an ever-increasing demand for highly skilled professionals who can design, program and operate technology.

“I can think of no enterprise more worthy than one devoted to inspiring the next generation of engineers, builders and manufacturers. I am proud to be a partner with FMA and know that with each child who attends one of our camps or pursues a career in manufacturing, we are rebuilding America’s foundation one tinkerer at a time,” Ratzenberger added.

“We’re making an investment in the work force of tomorrow,” said Terrence Egan, director of FMAF. “This is critical to the economy of the cities where the camps occur and to the nation in general.”

Suggested curriculum for a weeklong manufacturing camp might include a day or two of introduction to CAD software, a day or two in a fabrication shop or training facility, and a day of touring regional manufacturing facilities.

Grant funds may be used for expenses related to curriculum development and instruction, as well as direct expenses such as housing, meals, transportation and supplies. Expenses related to the purchase of software or other capital expenditures do not qualify.

Grant recipients will be named at the Metal Matters 2009 executive summit, a three-day conference sponsored by FMA and the Tube & Pipe Association that will be held March 25-27 near Phoenix.

More information and the grant application are available online