We have long been enthusiastic supporters of vocational education to train students for jobs in the woodworking industry. On a national scale, we support programs like WoodLINKS and the Woodworking Career Alliance. We have featured successful school programs and student design competitions. And from a personal standpoint, I’ve even shown up at my local school board to try to educate them and save woodworking programs.

But the sad fact of the matter is we are losing the battle.

More cutbacks 

We hear far more news about programs being dropped, cut back or curtailed than we do of new programs being launched or successful programs being expanded. And many of us in the industry are just shrugging our shoulders and doing little about it. Maybe the thinking is, “Heck, we’ve got to figure where the next job is coming from. We don’t have time to worry about our future workforce.”

When I was battling to save my local school’s woodworking program a few years ago, I contacted local cabinet shops and even another woodworking publisher in my New England town. But nobody showed up at the school board meeting. Nobody even took the time to write a letter. I was a lonely and easily ignored voice before a school board that was only too happy to abandon old-fashioned, dirty, dangerous, blue-collar woodworking education.

Support not enough 

But even when there is good industry and community support, that might not be enough. Jim McGrew of McGrew Woodworking Inc. in Columbia, S.C., has been a long-time advocate of woodworking education. He has been an unpaid adviser to a local high school cabinet making program and helped introduce the students to cutting edge software and CNC technology. But the teacher in the program told him the principal was dropping both the woodworking and auto shop programs. The plan was to replace them with culinary arts and health care vocational classes.

McGrew sounded the alarm and went to the school board. Unlike my experience, he garnered strong community support, receiving more than 5,000 supportive communications, newspaper coverage, and achieving a good turnout for the school board. But none of that stopped the board from voting 7-0 to drop the wood and auto programs. The teacher of the cabinet program says the decision will leave the nearly 70 mostly male and minority students in the wood program without much choice.

Clearly there is an endemic bias in the education establishment against manufacturing technology. They would rather try to force everyone into 4-year college programs or minimum wage service sector jobs than introduce them to something that could lead to a job or entrepreneurial opportunities in industry. Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame said it well in a video he did: “We’re so focused on training kids for the corner office that we forgot how to build the corner office.”

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