Michael Araten is the President and CEO of K’NEX, LPG, (the global building toy company), www.knex.com, and The Rodon Group, (one of the America’s largest plastics injection molders), www.rodongroup.com. K’NEX building toys are distributed to nearly 40 countries, and over 95% of the component parts are made at The Rodon Group.
K’NEX Brands is focused on Building Worlds Kids Love, and encourages youngsters to “imagine, build and play.” Founded in 1992, and winner of over 370 international awards and recognitions, K’NEX Brands is the world’s most innovative construction toy company. 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 and Rodon, Mr. 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, Mr. Araten was responsible for risk management, regulatory approvals, human resource issues and the management of over 100 law firms in 21 states. Mr. Araten also formed numerous joint ventures, led due diligence and acquisition teams, and obtained land development approvals that created over $5 billion in new home sales and land value.
As President and CEO, Mr. Araten speaks regularly on topics including advanced manufacturing, the toy industry, re-shoring, global competitiveness, entrepreneurship and innovation. Mr. Araten was recently named one of the 100 CEO Leaders in STEM by STEMConnector, and has appeared on CNBC, CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News, Bloomberg News, Fox Business, and numerous local and regional television and radio shows.
Mr. Araten holds a B.A. in Political Science from Stanford University, and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He resides in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania with his wife, Ellen and their children.
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, and is America’s STEM building solution. Winner of over 370 international awards and recognitions, K’NEX is focused on Building Worlds Kids Love® and encourages youngsters to “imagine, build and play.” From the living room to the classroom, K’NEX has building toys specially designed for every age group and skill level. The K’NEX family of brands includes K’NEX Building Sets, K’NEX Thrill Rides, K’NEX Education®, K-FORCE Build and Blast™, Beasts Alive®, Mighty Makers®, Mario Kart Wii™, Mario Kart 7™, Mario Kart 8™, Super Mario™, Plants vs. Zombies™, Lincoln Logs® and Tinkertoy®, under license from Hasbro, and more. Join us as we help build the leaders of tomorrow. For more information, please visit www.knex.com or www.rodongroup.com
At K’NEX & The Rodon Group we believe that STEM is the heart of innovation. Innovation drives growth, profits & the roles of the future. There are 1.5 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 increase 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 the key to that speed.
Our investment in advanced technology and more efficient equipment has given us a competitive edge over overseas manufacturers. But, we need employees who have the ability to use this technology.
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. It fosters critical thought, science literacy and innovation. Workers with STEM credentials are better educated. In 2011, 53% of all manufacturing workers had at least some college education, up from 43 percent in 1994.
STEM educated workers with less than a bachelor’s degree still enjoyed greater earnings (more than 30%) compared to those without STEM education. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
K’NEX has partnered with ThermoFisher Scientific on their STEM Design challenge. What began as a statewide (PA) classroom challenge is on the verge of going nationwide having recently expanded in to North Carolina. This year, the STEM Design challenge asks students grades 6-8 to construct an environmentally friendly building exclusively out of K’NEX. At regional challenges students will present their budget and design to judges, and during the presentation must demonstrate that their building can hold weight to show the strength of their building. Teams ranking first in their school move on to the state finals. As this challenge grows the hope is to bring the winners of each state competition to a nationwide final. K’NEX is pleased to be a part of this exciting competition.
K’NEX is America’s only STEM building solution. In 2016 we are launching our robotics set, which will help teach elementary, middle and high school students the basics of this critical industry. 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. We are proud to be educating the STEM leaders of tomorrow!