About Us

"Harbor Freight Fellows Initiative where work is practical, relational, situational and meaningful."

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About HFFI:

The Harbor Freight Fellows Initiative (HFFI) is a partnership between Big Picture Learning and the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program to elevate the respect and resources accorded youth (and their teachers). We support youth for whom the trades are the appropriate and chosen post secondary path to a fulfilling life as a professional and community member - especially those who have been historically marginalized in the trades through race, ethnicity, or gender bias.  


HFFI compensates apprenticing experiences with professional tradesperson mentors. Fellows work alongside mentors in real work situations to deepen their interest, develop hands-on practical skills, and broaden the professional network that will support them as they move through their professional lives.  HFFI, CTE teachers, and industry mentors come together to provide transformative experiences for Fellows, strengthen CTE programs to develop a cohort of skilled, committed youth entering the trades.


We measure our success by the depth of interest of our Fellows, their engagement with real work in the real world, and the breadth of the relationships developed during the Fellowship.

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HFFI Transforming CTE


It is our vision that all students live lives of their own design, supported by caring mentors and equitable opportunities to achieve their greatest potential. We move forward prepared to activate the power of schools, systems & education through student-directed, real-world learning. We are activists.

Harbor Freight Tools for Schools 

In 2014, Harbor Freight Tools CEO, founder and owner Eric Smidt kicked off a philanthropic project called Harbor Freight Tools for Schools by donating $1.4 million in tools and equipment to Los Angeles Unified School District.

Eric’s generosity was grounded in a deep respect for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands. He hoped the gift would transform skilled trades education in his hometown—but he didn’t want to stop there.

For the next two years, the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools team listened and learned from the people who know skilled trades education best—teachers. After conducting a focus group with teachers, hosting an advisor session with educators and other experts, and surveying hundreds of trades teachers nationwide, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools evolved its purpose: to advance excellent skilled trades education in public high schools across America.


“Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not - because the thing they were good at at schools wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.” — Sir Ken Robinson

Meet Our Advisors

Charlie Plant

“I have been the principal of four Big Picture Schools across the country, most recently MetWest HS in Oakland, Ca. I am firmly grounded in the BPL principles of real learning through real work, the power of relationships and one student at a time.  I also have been a professional tradesperson for over 35 years (I’m no spring chicken).  I became a painter/wallpaper hanger after dropping out of Brown University in 1969.  I have spent ten years as a union painter and ran my own business.  Eventually I returned to college to become a teacher, and then a principal.  I first hand experienced the deep satisfactions, opportunities, and cognitive challenges of the trades.  HFFI is a labor of love for me - to support youth, who like myself, love to work with their hands and in so doing engage their hearts and minds as well.”- Charlie Plant