By Rich Benninghoff, Malco Products, SBC

Two years ago, I joined Malco Products, SBC, and from my very first day, I was impressed with the company’s commitment to the communities where the company operates and its dedication to supporting the next generation of technical and trade students.

It’s not a secret that there is a nationwide shortage of hard-working women and men in the trades, that’s why our company is proud to provide support for students pursuing these careers through a number of different initiatives. 

As one of the nation’s leading solution developers and manufacturers of a variety of high-quality tools for the building trades for more than 70 years, we’re in a position to not only provide tools so tradespeople can tackle their jobs effectively, but also to lean into encouraging future industry leaders. 

Overall, every year Malco donates more than $160,000 of in-kind products and apparel to a variety of skilled trade education programs, competitions and events across the country. This includes high school, post-secondary technical and apprenticeship programs, regional apprenticeship contests and SkillsUSA state and national conferences. 

The tool manufacturer also coordinates its own national recognition program: the “Head of the Class” Student Recognition Program for high-achieving students and entire graduating classes in the HVAC/sheet metal, building construction and autobody repair fields.

Today more than ever, we understand and appreciate the growing need for and importance of qualified and skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen in our workforce. That’s why I’m excited to share more about our legacy and new initiatives.

Supporting our Communities

Malco is based in Annandale, Minnesota, and has always been a strong supporter of our local community. Since our founding, it’s been important to keep and create jobs in the United States and to make a positive impact in the communities where we operate — that is literally part of our mandate as a Specific Benefit Corporation (SBC) in the state of Minnesota. 

In 2020, longtime associate and CFO Jeannette Rieger-Borer retired after 20 years at Malco. In her honor, Malco created the Jeannette Rieger-Borer Scholarship, which is awarded annually to local high school students pursuing vocational or technical education training in one of the trades the company serves: HVAC, automotive or construction. We are proud that Jeannette was able to see the first student receive this honor in 2021 before she passed away in 2022, and we are humbled and proud to continue recognizing and sharing her legacy with this annual scholarship. We are excited to have a “hometown” students seeking this type of education and training each year.

A new program we established in 2022 is working alongside Habitat for Humanity. Last summer, Malco employees joined a local Habitat for Humanity home build and our company also donated tools to Sartell-St. Stephen High School for future Habitat for Humanity projects throughout central Minnesota. 

This community commitment is part of who we are as a company and has been formally established in our culture as part of our “Look Good, Feel Good, Do Good” initiative that also encourages employees to volunteer with causes that they are passionate about. We plan to continue to identify more opportunities to meaningfully support our local communities!

Head of the Class

Anthony Byrd, Head of the Class, 2023

While we’re proud of our local programs, our support of education and trade schools extends throughout the United States and Canada as well. 

For nearly 20 years, the Malco Head of the Class Student Recognition Program has awarded outstanding graduating students from technical school, union Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees, and industry association career education programs across North America. The program launched in 2005, and since then has reached more than 85,000 students attending more than 1,000 programs focused on heating, ventilation & air conditioning, building construction and autobody repair.

We’re proud of this program and how it’s taken off and grown over the years. It comes at no cost to schools or educators, and truly makes an impact for these students as they start their careers. 

The program is simple: educators can nominate an outstanding graduating student to receive a Malco tool gift with an average value of $150, to help them start their careers with a set of high-quality tools. To date, the program has recognized more than 4,000 Head of the Class honorees.

Daniel Owens, Head of the Class, 2023

We know that buying tools is often a significant investment for trade professionals and can be a barrier for young professionals just getting started; helping students get a good start is important to us. Additionally, the entire graduating class at these schools receive a Malco cap.

Our hope is that this award program inspires up-and-coming construction pros across the U.S. to focus on completing high quality, safe work for their customers, and that they continue going above and beyond to ensure a job well done.

Support of SkillsUSA

As part of our effort to support the national technical education community, last year, Malco provided $19,500 in-kind donations to SkillsUSA State Association Sheet Metal Champions.

The SkillsUSA program gives students the opportunity to compete in trade contests. We donated 36 Malco Backpack Tool Kits ($18,000 in value) to students who won at the state level before heading to nationals.

We plan to continue supporting the important work that SkillsUSA does for the industry.

Supporting Educators, Celebrating Students

Malco was proud to return to the 2022 HVAC Excellence Show, also known as the National HVACR Education Conference, last March in Las Vegas. This show is the ultimate training experience for HVAC instructors to learn about new and emerging technologies, hear from industry leaders and exchange ideas with peers. We loved hearing from instructors and students who shared positive feedback about our Head of the Class program.

Every year Malco also exhibits at the SkillsUSA TECHSPO and it’s always a highlight for the team. It’s an opportunity to meet educators and exceptional students as they compete in hands-on and leadership competitions. 

Another way we support schools and students is by offering tool discounts to trade school instructors purchasing tools for the classroom, as well as students in trade programs who show their student ID.

As we look at the future, we’re hopeful that many young, bright minds continue to pursue careers in the HVAC, automotive and construction industries. As a company, if we can play even a small role in making these careers possible for the next generation, we can be proud of our work. RF

Rich Benninghoff is president and CEO of Malco Products, SBC.

mikeroweWORKS Foundation: From Dirty Jobs to the Work Ethic Crusade

If you know the name Mike Rowe, then you can probably picture the American producer and host knee-deep in some unknown, and undoubtedly dirty substance. During his 10-season tenure as the host of Dirty Jobs, Rowe played apprentice to dozens of blue-collar workers, where he developed a deep respect for the often forgotten and ridiculed “dirty” tradesman.

“The jobs he was working on were perceived as undesirable,” says Jade Estrada, VP of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation. “But the people he was working with were making good money; they were entrepreneurs. They were not necessarily following their passion, but they were bringing their passion with them in their work and succeeding.” These experiences led Rowe to launch the mikeroweWORKS Foundation in 2008 with the mission of improving the reputation of hard work and the trades.  

The mikeroweWORKS Foundation looks to close the skills gap in this country by challenging the stereotypes and stigmas connected with the trades that discourage workers from pursuing a huge range of viable careers. Culturally and in our education, the past couple generations of American workers have been led to believe that a four-year degree is the only path to success: that blue-collar work is for those who couldn’t make it to college, that it was “runner-up” work. 

The main goal of the foundation is to let people know how absolutely wrong that is. “Tradespeople are not who you think they are,” says Estrada. “They are hardworking people, entrepreneurs, and trailblazers who have mastered a skill that’s in demand anywhere in the world.”

Work Ethic Scholarship Program

A scholarship program developed naturally out of this campaign for hard work and skilled labor. If Rowe was going to educate students on the value of the trades, he also wanted to help hardworking students on that path. Since 2014, the mikeroweWORKS Foundation has awarded over 1,500 scholarships worth seven million dollars. “The majority of the people who apply are fresh out of high school,” says Estrada, “however, we have many applicants who are exploring the trades as a second career.” 

As long as you meet the requirements, it doesn’t matter what stage in life you are living. Along with typical scholarship requirements like a transcript, some essay questions, and references, you need to enroll in an approved program at a two-year school. Approved trades include automotive and aviation technology, carpentry, construction, EMT, farming & agriculture, manufacturing, plumbing, and more. (A full list of guidelines and programs can be found at 

More than anything else, applicants need to display their commitment to the four pillars of the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge: work ethic, personal responsibility, delayed gratification, and a positive attitude. In 2020, nearly one million dollars in scholarships were awarded to more than 200 students all over the United States. At the time, that was the highest dollar amount awarded in one year in the program’s history.  In each successive year the foundation has given at least one million dollars and 2023 may see that benchmark doubled. “Mike is now the leading advocate of skilled trades in the U.S.,” says Estrada. “The number of individuals involved and the visibility of the program have grown substantially.” 

You’ve Got to be Willing to S.W.E.A.T.

One of the core beliefs of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation is that working hard should be valued in our society. Out of that belief grew the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge, which stands for “Skills and Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo.” Rowe created this list of 12 belief statements to outline and exemplify the characteristics and world view he values in a worker. For example, here are a couple of the 12 statements: 

• “#2. I believe that I am entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing more. I also understand that “happiness” and “the pursuit of happiness” are not the same thing.”

• “#7. I believe the best way to distinguish myself at work is to show up early, stay late, and cheerfully volunteer for every crappy task there is.”

• “#12. I believe that all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.”

Rowe readily acknowledges that the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge isn’t for everyone, and may ruffle some feathers, but he strongly believes that the values displayed are what make a good worker. So much so, that every applicant for the scholarship program needs to sign a copy of the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge before they can be eligible. 

An outcropping of the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge, after encouragement and support from partner companies, was the development of a work ethic curriculum built around the four pillars of the pledge: work ethic, personal responsibility, delayed gratification, and a positive attitude. “These are qualities any worker or student can benefit from embracing,” says Estrada. “They will be useful for job satisfaction and success long-term no matter what profession you choose.” A pilot program of 20 post-secondary schools took place in the fall of 2019? and the foundation is continuing to test the waters.

In the future, the mikeroweWORKS Foundation hopes to expand the work ethic curriculum to corporations, middle schools, and high schools. Helping kids understand all of the options that are open to them and helping working adults rediscover good work ethic are both future desires of the curriculum. Look for the curriculum’s progress in the years to come. Coming to a school near you! RF