I wrote recently about WoodLinks. That article came about following a meeting that I was invited to attend at which our Northwest WoodLinks group was planning their annual Fall Teacher In-Service Day. That day was last Friday.

WoodLinks, as you recall, is collaboration between industry and woodshop teachers for the benefit of both. But the bottom line is that collaboration is all about helping kids learn skills to become tomorrow’s woodworkers and achieve well-paying careers in woodworking and making their time in high school more meaningful.

A year ago, I had been invited to present at that fall in-service. I had a great day discussing options for high school woodshop teachers who wanted to teach spray application in their classes. It was a great day for me, a guy who spent 20 years in education. A day to rub elbows with some very dedicated educators and to help them with their needs. s.

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My buddy Dave…I’ve written about Dave before. He was a woodshop teacher in the Salem, Oregon schools for many years. Now retired, he voluntarily serves as the Northwest Director for WoodLinks USA.

The man who followed Dave in the classroom is a guy that I met via my career in wholesale hardware. One of the first service calls that I made when I started in that was to Dean Mattson’s shop in Salem to set up a piece of equipment in his shop.

Years later, Dean made the leap from cabinetworker to woodshop teacher when he learned that Dave was going to retire. Dean didn’t want Dave’s program to go the way that most do when an outstanding teacher retires. Dean wanted it to continue to thrive and there’s no better way to put your money where your mouth is than to step in and take the reins. That’s what Dean did. I think that we should all be thankful for what Dean did.

As it goes, in four years Dean has taken that program and raised it through the roof. Dave had about 175 students average in his days. Dean is looking at a potential of 800 students this fall. In Dean’s own words, he wanted to “carry on for a legendary teacher,” “start little and just let the thing get going,” while “telling the story of the kids.”

Last fall a fellow named Joe Wadsworth showed up at that in-service program to sit in on the day’s activities as a member of industry. Joe is Vice President of Custom Source Woodworking in Olympia, WA. CSW is a commercial woodworking shop.

Joe had a desire to support WoodLinks and a deeper desire to find solutions to his staffing problems. That’s where Dean and Joe met and the result of that has been a marriage or resources that is part of a story well worth hearing.

CSW has been in existence for five years. Now they have a 24,000 ft. shop and do about $7 million in sales. The down side is that Joe figures that he’s fired about 280 cabinetmakers in that time with a retention rate of 2.5%. His burning question has been how to find dedicated, hardworking, skilled employees that will allow him to service the demands of his clientele whilecontinuing to grow in today’s economy.

Well, maybe the answer is in hiring people before they have time to develop “bad habits.”Perhaps those who don’t know how yet to say, “We don’t do it that way here.”

To Dean, Joe said, “Where am I going to get good people?”

Dean’s reply was, “How about if I bring you the perfect employee?”

Joe said, “Send me your best!”

So Dean went to work and by the school year’s end, he had ten kids for Joe. They started working last summer. Five remain. Joe hopes those five never leave and Joe is looking for more. Now, let’s not forget. We’re up from 2.5% to 50% retention!

Creating the perfect employee is not without its pitfalls. But Dean is able to get his kids to not only drink the Kool-Aidbut to ask for more. Dean’s job is to somehow get the kids to see the worth in good work ethics and hard work. Members of “the other five” have had the courage to come back to see Dean and tell him that they wished that they had worked harder to understand what was needed. This type of testimonial in front of the younger students is invaluable. Imagine that scene if you can. But it all points right back at the need to work hard and work well.

Last Friday, Joe took a moment to tell the story of one young kid. One day the foreman on the jobsite called to ask Joe to tell his kid to stop running around on the job site.Evidently, the kid is like a house afire. Joe says that he is never going to tell the kid to slow down. His dedication is evident in the hard work and determination that he displays daily.

This is what can happen when industry and education get together. Joe and Dean talk regularly on the phone. Joe will say, “How about if we work on this?” Dean’s reply is, “we’ll work on that” and he does.

One of those this’s and that’s is the need to be able to read a tape measure and do math. Dean has a curriculum for that. When the kid passes his tape measure test, he gets a tape measure for doing so. Dean needed tape measures. He called a manufacturer and BANG! 500 tape measures showed up via UPS the next week. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

I hope that those of you who read this get the idea of how this CAN work. This can be a symbiotic relationship that is without equal. It all starts by telling the story. Now you’ve heard a bit of Dave’s, Joe’s, and Dean’s.

I challenge you to create a story like this. I’ll be happy to write about it if you do. Until next time…spray on!

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