Over the years we have devoted a lot of energy to promoting woodworking education, but most of that effort was directed at creating skilled employees for woodworking manufacturers. That still is a crucial mission, and we wholeheartedly support such efforts as the Woodworking Career Alliance. But it has long bothered me that there seems to be a crucial part of woodworking career training that is overlooked by educators and industry alike.
What I am talking about is trying to create entrepreneurs as well as employees. Now, I can already hear the objections: You can’t teach being an entrepreneur; that’s a unique mindset. I’m sorry, I just don’t buy that. You can teach people to open their eyes to new ways of seeing things, and that’s really all that entrepreneurship is. While the average person looks at a problem and looks for someone else to solve it, the entrepreneur looks at it and wonders if there is an opportunity to create a profitable solution.
The thing is, a huge number of people interested in woodworking already have some of the innate skills necessary to be successful entrepreneurs. Woodworkers tend to be natural problem solvers. They always want to find a better way to do something. They also tend to be independent types that aren’t afraid to take their own path. Those are key traits of many successful entrepreneurs.
But traditional woodworking education does little to encourage and grow entrepreneurial tendencies. In fact, few programs introduce students to the unique challenges and opportunities of running their own businesses. We tend to be so focused on sharing the skills of woodworking that we forget to share the skills of business that could lead a promising young woodworker to create a new enterprise. If woodworking is to prosper in the 21st century economy, we will need those young entrepreneurs as much as we need skilled workers.
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