Top Woodworking Teacher Tells How To Attract Workers

By Dean Mattson | Posted: 06/19/2013 9:38AM


Dean Mattson, director of the Wood Manufacturing/Cabinet Making Program at North Salem High School, Salem, OR, received the 2013 WMIA Wooden Globe Award as Educator of the Year. His program is affiliated with the Woodwork Career Alliance, under which students can begin formal skills credentialing while in school. Here is acceptance speech at the 2013 Wood Industry Conference in Phoenix in April.

Dean Mattson after he received the WMIA Wooden Globe Award for Educator of the Year at the annual Wood Industry Conference, April 2013 in Phoenix. It is so surreal to be standing before you today and for you to have recognized our educational program at North Salem High School in Salem, Ore. Last year three companies nominated us for this award and the winner was the Blum Corporation. For me it was like David and Goliath. When we were nominated again this year it was like, “Who is going to win this year? IKEA?”

I was sitting at my desk counseling a student whose foster parentstold him he wasn’t good enough to get one of our industry’s contracts when my iPad beeped and I looked at the screen and it said, “Congratulations! You are the winner of our Educator of the Year Award.” I said, “Holy $#&@! We won!” My student said, “Mr. Mattson, you just said a bad word!” I was shocked and speechless.

Last week at the Stiles Executive Briefing Conference (EBC) in Chicago, industry leaders were asking me, “What is the secret to attracting so many high school young people to enroll in your woods program and then upon graduation, place them into good paying jobs in our industry when so many programs are being closed?”

I would like to go back a few years ago and start there to answer this question.

In 2007, my late wife, Ann, was stricken with cancer and passed away. Shortly after that trial came the financial crises of 2008, and my cabinet manufacturing company lost a great deal of work when the stock market crashed. I was forced to reinvent my life.

The reinvention started by meeting a remarkable lady named Rosemary. Rosemary lost her husband years ago to cancer, as well. Rosemary allowed me to date her, fall in love with her and she graciously became my wife.

Our families joined together to make one new family and we now have four new grandchildren. We feel extremely blessed. But my career still seemed to be empty.

Rosemary, a most gifted teacher began to heighten my passion for teaching. I thought about the eight years I had volunteered teaching at Oregon State Penitentiary, helping men re-enter society. I was beginning to think of pursuing some form of teaching.

Then a call came that asked for my help in finding a replacement for the legendary woods teacher David Anderson who was retiring at NSHS after 30 years. Six months later I was awarded the job.

I had no clue what I was doing. I was surrounded by teenagers that were acting and talking in ways that were shocking to me. Back in the day, they would have been immediately expelled. I remember saying to myself all the time, “Lord, what am I going to do?”

WoodLINKS USA and WCA Merger Completed

by Patrick Molzahn, board member, Woodwork Career Alliance and Program Director, Cabinetmaking and Millwork, Madison (WI) College

Like many woods programs around the country, this one was shrinking. It had become for the most part a dumping ground by counselors and administrators for problem kids. I was extremely frustrated. It was an uncomfortable environment with all the dangerous outdated equipment to manage. I had nightmares of cut-off hands.

As a former marketing professional and an owner of a cabinet manufacturing company, I needed to change the image and produce products that young people could embrace.

I needed to react quickly, but that is not the norm for public education. In addition to this, NSHS is a Title I school with a poverty culture and over 20% of the students are homeless. I struggled to grasp the way to turn this program around until I had a conversation with one of my students.

During the first six weeks of my first semester sat a quiet Hispanic young lady whom we will call Mary.

Progress grades were due and Mary had all D and F grades. I decided to sit down next to her and see if she would talk to me. She did not say much. I told her that I wanted to give her a C- but she had to turn in her work and would work with her to help her finish her basic cabinet project or she would fail. Mary said she would try.

She began to respond immediately. At the end of the semester when we graded her cabinet, she received a B grade and Mary had tears running down her cheeks. Mary said it was the best grade she had ever received. I, too, was encouraged and I thought maybe I could become an acceptable teacher.

The next semester’s Cabinet Making 2 project was a solid stock, mortise-and-tenon table that measures 16x16x16 inches.

Woodwork Career Alliance Passport It is our goal to share this model of CTE education with any organization that believes that this is a key to the future of education in our country. It has been written in publications all the way to Wall Street that this is an important breakthrough. If you think it is, please pass this on to prominent people in education, industry and in Washington, DC.

You are the industry leaders of machinery. Programs like mine need state of the art equipment to train the future leaders of our industry. You want to create a market edge. Place your machines in prominent educational programs and let them sell for you 24-7. It is the least costly marketing with the biggest ROI you can have. Your competitors will be wondering what happened. Join me on the cutting edge. It is where the action is. I sacrificed my company for youth. What can you do?

A freshman in Cabinet Making 1 says after asking his class what makes this program special to them. He answered, “You’re not just teaching us how to make stuff out of wood; you’re also teaching us how to make something out of our lives.”

On behalf of the fabulous young people of North Salem High School, the teachers, the volunteers, the administrators, the industry partners, the investors and most of all those that pray for these children every day,and myself … thank you from the bottom of this man’s heart.

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