Workforce development, an all-too-relevant topic in our industry, was the focus of the November 9, 2018 Cabinet Makers Association (CMA) regional event held at The MiLL National Training Center in Colorado Springs. The event also included a tour of Concepts in Millwork.
The MiLL is the industry’s first national training center where students can learn cabinetmaking and general construction; the evolving program is also soon adding a welding option. Founded by Dean Mattson, the MiLL’s program was initially offered to nearby high schools to complement their curriculum and offer yet another opportunity for their students to gain real-world training.
The MiLL has now expanded its original scope to include classes in the evenings for the Wounded Warrior Project in collaboration with Red Rocks Community College. 
The entire program is designed to be replicated throughout the country and plans are already in the works for additional locations.
Students at The MiLL are not simply taught necessary woodworking skills; they also acquire a professional skill set that is quite remarkable. They are encouraged to create business cards as soon as possible, and to network all the time, wherever they are. They are also taught the importance of eye contact and a firm handshake. “These kids make a very strong first impression,” says Amanda Conger, the executive director of the CMA.
Concepts in Millwork, a family-owned commercial millwork company, uses The MiLL to source their workforce. During the CMA event at the MiLL, HR manager Rhynel Evans was part of a panel discussion and explained that she realized the Concepts needed to be creative in their recruiting methods. And so, they began their partnership with The MiLL by offering students an internship program the summer before their senior year. During the 12-week program, the interns are cross-trained in every major area on the shop floor. Concepts has not only had 100 percent placement after graduation but also has a 100 percent retention rate with those employees. 
Evans admits that it takes effort. “Managing this generation takes flexibility and patience,” she stated.  “They often require customized arrangements, and Concepts has had to learn to adapt to their needs.” One of their employees had trouble getting to work on time in the mornings because he had a new baby at home. After some consideration, they mutually agreed to switch him to the second shift and this has worked out great.
Everyone attending the Colorado Spring event was urged to get involved in their local communities and create a partnership with their respective educational programs. Dean Mattson also encouraged companies to establish their own internal education program to train and retain their current employees. 
Another highlight of the event was the presentation of two scholarships to students of The MiLL by Darryl Hogeback of Savanté Wine Cellars, based in Denver, Colorado. Hogeback was recently awarded prize money by Woodworking Network for an extra-spectacular project, and he chose to donate his winnings to support The MiLL. Upon hearing about Hogeback’s generosity, the management at Columbia Forest Products agreed to match the amount. This development made it possible to offer two scholarships instead of just one. The initiative created the school’s first official scholarship program, and he encourages others to follow suit and make additional contributions.
Hogeback shared his background and passion for training the future workforce in the Fall 2018 issue of CMA’s PROfiles, magazine.  The entire article can be read online at

“I came from a high school in Ohio that had a really great shop and taught industrial arts, so I learned woodworking and architectural drawing, and that all helped me in my career path. My teacher would always take students to the state competition, and they would win every year.

“They got rid of that program at my high school about five years ago, and put in a weight-lifting gym instead. It was heart-breaking. It’s a lost opportunity to introduce kids to the trades — woodworking, metal working, welding, automotive work, etc. — and let them find out that they’re good at working with their hands.”

Like others in the industry, he hopes that kids will realize that woodworking offers a great future, reliable work and a lot of satisfaction.

“There’s something powerful about building something with your hands and seeing it afterward,” he says. “I hear that from people a lot. My clients often say they wish they could build something.”


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