One of the challenges facing woodworking companies is the lack of skilled workers, a rising concern as the economy recovers. The problem stems in part from schools curtailing industrial training, plus woodworking is not marketed well as a career option.
Chicago’s Greater West Town Woodworkers Training program aims to change that. Its Woodworking and Solid Surface Manufacturing Training program prepares students for skilled jobs within the industry. Since 1993, the program has graduated 589 trainees. Providing training in a shop setting, the four-month program is free of charge – the non-profit is funded by grants – to students who spend 450 hours learning woodworking basics, including solid wood and panel processing, edgebanding, cabinet assembly and CNC operation.
“Students are here for a typical work day, five days a week,” says Doug Rappe, program coordinator and lead instructor. “Our goal is to give them a solid base of skills so they can develop a career path in woodworking.”
Shop equipment includes a Weeke BP 60 CNC router from Stiles Machinery.
Weeke BP 60 Machining Center
Altendorf F45 sliding table saw
“The beauty of that CNC is that it mirrors their large machines,” says Rappe. An edgebander from Stiles Machinery is also on the shop floor as well as additional woodworking equipment, including a Whirlwind edge sander and a Moak jointer.
“We always try to reflect what’s going on in the industry,” Rappe adds. “The equipment is enough to teach the basic concepts, including digital measuring, which they will encounter on a wide range of tools.” (See page 38.) Graduates are placed at local firms, which typically advise the center on curriculum.
Rappe is also trained and qualified as a Woodwork Career Alliance (WCA) Skills Standard evaluator. WCA, launched under a grant by the USDA Forest Service in 2007, has developed and published industry-approved Standards of Tool Skills and Evaluations to formalize and test competency in skill sets woodworkers should have. Students who complete the center’s training are candidates for WCA evaluations, earning them an industry passport.
“I went for evaluator training over the summer, and we are now a certified training partner,” Rappe says. “That is one of the more exciting developments that happened for us. For our students to get the recognition – not just our certificate but an industry-wide, nationally recognized credential – is a huge thing.”
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