Attracting Millennials with a Manufacturing Day event
November 3, 2021 | 5:00 pm CDT
Sofo kitchens manufacturing day assembling chairs

Students assemble stools cut out on a CNC router at Sofo Kitchens in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, near Vancouver, as part of a Manufacturing Day tour on October 29.

Monika Soos, co-owner of Sofo Kitchens Ltd. with her husband Radu Soos, has long been concerned about finding good skilled employees for their residential custom kitchen cabinet shop in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, near Vancouver.

“As any shop owner knows, one of the hardest things is finding qualified and skilled workers,” said Monika. “And with Baby Boomers aging out of the workforce, Generation X is not able to fill the gap left behind. The only hope is to attract Millennials.”

But that’s not easy. She saw a survey done by Parsable that showed in four years Millennials will account for 75 percent of the total global workforce, yet they showed the lowest likelihood of selecting manufacturing as their first career choice. The report also noted that this digital savvy generation expects to be provided with technology to help them do their jobs and be more productive, and frankly, most manufacturers are not meeting their expectation, the report said.

Sofo kitchens manufacturing day group shot
Some 20 students and two teachers from Westview Secondary School in Maple Ridge, B.C., attended the Manufacturing Day event October 29 at Sofo Kitchens in nearby Port Coquitlam.


Monika, who serves on the board of directors for the Cabinet Makers Association, read about Manufacturing Day activities in an article in the CMA magazine PROfiles in 2019. The idea was to host manufacturing-related public events especially geared toward students on the first Friday in October. 

“We wanted to expose these young people to the wood working industry and see first-hand that this is not necessarily an artisan, old school trade but also that there are cool woodworking machines that are numerically controlled, that it is fun and that there can actually be a future and money in this trade,” said Monika. 

Sofo kitchens manufacturing day shop tour
Students learned that modern woodworking includes high-tech equipment like this CNC router.


Sofo Kitchens held its first Manufacturing Day event in October of 2019, and it was a success with 25 students attending. One of the students actually came back to work for Sofo over the summer of 2020, Monika said.

Unfortunately, due to COVID, they had to skip a year, but they were dedicated to bringing the event back strong in 2021. After getting the blessings from the local health authority as well as Worksafe BC, the event happened October 29 with 20 students and two teachers from Westview Secondary School in Maple Ridge. There was even representative from SKILLS READY - an initiative of the Construction Foundation of BC.

Sofo kitchens manufacturing day spray booths
Going against stereotypes of manufacturing being dirty and lo-tech, students saw modern clean spray booths in operation at Sofo Kitchens.


“The students of the woodshop program from our local high-school got to see how a project moves from the design concept all the way to finished product,” said Monika. “Some of them seemed surprised by all the automation.”

The project involved chairs that could easily be assembled from flat parts cut from engineered wood panels. At the end there was a contest: they had to assemble a chair without instructions. The chairs had been cut right in front of them on the CNC router out of plywood donated by Hardwoods Inc. 

Sofo kitchens manufacturing day chair parts
Students watched as chair parts were cut on a CNC machine.


“It was a fun experience and 8 out of 20 winners received gift cards,” said Monika.

Then the students all got to sit down on their own chairs and enjoy their lunch, beverages and cookies (donated by Blum). 

Sofo kitchens manufacturing day assembling chairs
With no instructions, students had to figure out how to assemble the stool-style chairs, competing with each other to put the chairs together.


“The lunch break was a great opportunity for the students to ask the shop floor employees lots of questions,” said Monika. “Three students seemed interested to further pursue their education in the woodworking trade and showed interest in joining the Red Seal Joinery program.” The Red Seal program is a program that sets common standards to assess the skills of tradespeople across Canada. 

Sofo kitchens manufacturing day Monika
Monika Soos, co-owner of Sofo Kitchens, awarded gift cards to the eight winners in the chair assembly competition.


“The field trip was a success,” said Monika. “The students learned a lot, had fun and the team members got to show off their skills and knowledge.”

Sofo Kitchens expects to be able to hold this event annually. For more information about Sofo Kitchens, visit sofokitchens.com.

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editor of FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.