Studies Find Strong Support for Skilled Trades Education

Two new studies commissioned by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools (HFTS) examine the state of high school skilled trades education and what American think about it.

Highlighted findings of the studies include:

  • More than 1 million students study skilled trades in high school.
  • Eight in 10 voters favor increased public funding for skilled trades education and think it should be a priority in high school.
  • Eight in 10 parents say their children would be better prepared for the future if they had a chance to study a trade in high school.

Each of the studies was conducted by an independent organization — JFF, a nonprofit that works to drive economic advancement for all Americans, and NORC, a nonpartisan polling organization at the University of Chicago.

According to HTFS, “Our hope was to start productive conversations about the potential of high school skilled trades education to uplift students, families, communities, and our economy.”

Download the studies.


Building a Bridge Between Woodworking Education & Industry

Mark Smith, industrial technology teacher at Reed-Custer High School in Braidwood, IL, is in the news again. MultiBriefs, an online source of industry specific news, recently posted an article about Smith and his program.

“Supporting Student Success Through Industry Outreach” delves into Smith’s long-time and continuing efforts to forge relationships with the woodworking industry through a mix of press releases, social media posts and personalized thank you certificates and videos. The payback, the article notes, has been tremendous. “People from industry have generously given technical advice, career guidance, mentoring, equipment donations, financial support as well as internship and career opportunities.”

Read the full article.

You can also learn about Smith’s views on the importance of promoting his program in an article WCA posted last July.


Students experience VR woodworking at The MiLL

The WoodEd Table, a virtual reality system for training students and novices how to operate basic woodworking machinery in a safe, dust-free environment, was implemented at the MiLL National Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, earlier this year.

The Wood ED Table features four simulation modules: bandsaw, ripsaw, jointer and shaper. Users operate the system wearing a pair of 3D interactive glasses.

“In our classes there are always a few students whose fear of operating machines inhibits the growth of their skill,” said David Davis, instructor at the MiLL. “The WoodEd table can help (students) build skills without the fear.”

The MiLL (Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab) is an EDUcation member of the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America. Mimbus, developer of the WoodEd table, is a Gold sponsor of the WCA.

“Virtual reality is a tremendous tool for instructing students and new employees on the safe operation of equipment used in our industry,” said Scott Nelson, president of the WCA. “Young adults and kids are being raised on interactive video games that have a strong VR component. I think training simulators like the WoodEd table can help attract more youths into our industry.”

SCM organizes student tours of high-tech cabinet plants

SCM North America, along with two of its customers in Southern California – Excel Cabinets and Reeves Enterprises – recently provided students from San Jacinto High School’s Industrial Wood Technologies program the opportunity to witness a machine installation and cabinet manufacturing technology in motion.

Over the course of two days, this job shadow experience provided students of the San Jacinto, CA’s woodworking program, an inside look at factory performance optimization; SCM machine research and acquisition; and general day-to-day business operations. SCM North America is a Gold sponsor of the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America.

Day one:  CNC nesting cell installation at Excel Cabinets of Corona, CA. During the installation of SCM’s X200 CNC nesting cell, students, Roman McNabb and Richard Zendejas, along with their instructor, Roy Castillo, were able to see the placement and leveling of the machine. This was followed by the final assembly, calibration, and quality assurance inspection orchestrated by one of SCM’s field service engineers.

Day two:  Factory tour at Reeves Enterprises of La Verne, CA. During the visit at Reeves Enterprises, the students saw the process of building high-end commercial cabinets in a fully automated environment. Brad Reeves, vice president, explained how adjustments including cutting profiles, holes, and grooves are all supported in parametric cabinet design using G-Code programming.  The code is created with Cabinet Vision, a computer automated drafting and manufacturing program to support a fully integrated screen-to-machine operation.

Experiential Education
“My students have a very manual and tactile experience in wood technology and it is in that background that many of the lessons we took part in with SCM were meaningful,” Castillo said. “The scale, efficiency, and workflow of these sorts of facilities gave my students access to what it might be like as a contemporary machine operator. The depth of parametric design and screen-to-machine operations supported our expectations in project planning. We found parallels in our plan of procedure project paperwork and the post processing/G-Code used at Reeves Enterprise;”

About San Jacinto High School’s Industrial Wood Technologies program
The Industrial Wood Technologies program provides students exposure to a wide array of tools and machinery: industrial hand, portable and stationary tools/equipment. Students enrolled in this program engage in an instructional environment where academic and technical preparation will focus on career awareness, career exploration and skill preparation in woodworking teachnologies. The knowledge and skills emphasized in this program include written and manufacturing activities.

Weinig Holz-Her Event Draws Record Crowd to Madison College

Weinig Holz-Her USA and Viking Machinery sponsored a day-long seminar on edgebanding at Madison College recently. Over 60 people attended, including owners and employees from more than a dozen shops located in Wisconsin and Illinois.

Madison College is an EDUcation member of the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America and Weinig Holz-Her is a WCA Gold sponsor.

Tim Keveney of Weinig Holz-Her started the day by talking about the development of edgebanding technology from 1950 to the present.

Participants then separated into small groups for presentations on adhesives, edgebanding, and demonstrations using Madison College’s Holz-Her Streamer edgebander. Pat Stockinger of Jowat covered the various types of adhesives used for edgebanding. Randy Muelenberg of Rehau discussed various types of edgebanding materials that are available and how the material is manufactured. Kevin Gremillion of Weinig Holz-Her demonstrated machine setup and different edge applications, as well as demystifying the use of PUR adhesive.

Following a lunch catered by Viking Machinery, Gremillion presented an overview of edgebander maintenance. Participants had the opportunity to get their questions answered and spend time with the speakers throughout the day.

Madison College hosts two to three seminars annually that are open to the public. The next seminar will be held on Thursday, October 15. It will feature products and machinery manufactured by Lamello.

To receive notification of future events, subscribe to Wood Moves, an e-newsletter from Madison College’s Cabinetmaking & Millwork program, by emailing Patrick Molzahn at



President’s Message: WCA Is Off & Running in 2020

2019 was a very productive year for WCA! We added 507 new individuals to our Passport credentialing program and awarded 418 certificates or credentials to individuals. This represents the largest number of credentials awarded in any one year in the history of WCA.

We’re looking to build on the success of our credentialing program by certifying more Accredited Skill Evaluators (ASE) beginning this spring. We’re accepting online enrollment for ASE training scheduled for April 17 at Madison College in Madison, WI. We’re also working on the date for ASE training at Western Technical College in La Cross, WI. Contact me at if you want to receive details when they become available. Our busy spring schedule includes private ASE trainings in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Also on tap in 2020, we will be concentrating on creating WCA 4.0. We are partnering with Woodworking Network on a survey of industry professionals throughout the U.S. and Canada. The results of this survey will help guide the development of WCA 4.0.

We’ll have more information to share about Industry 4.0 at the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta this August. At IWF, WCA will offer a workshop on how to set up an in-house training program. Workshop attendees from all sizes and types of woodworking operations will receive a template that they can use to jumpstart developing a training program tailored to their specific needs. Plan on visiting us at IWF booth BC922.

Scott Nelson
Woodwork Career Alliance of North America

Center for Furniture Craftsmanship Expands ‘Teaching the Teachers’ Scholarship Program


Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, a nonprofit woodworking school in Rockport, ME, has successfully raised $1 million to sustainably endow its Teaching the Teachers scholarship program. Launched as a pilot in 2018, Teaching the Teachers awards scholarships to schools and service organizations that teach woodworking to economically disadvantaged communities. Scholarships cover the full cost of enrolling a partner institution’s instructor in CFC’s workshops, so that he or she can return to their own programs with new woodworking skills and information.

As a result of its fundraising, CFC is able to offer one additional summer workshop scholarship for 2020 beyond the seven it has already awarded, and seeks nominations from new partner institutions. More information is available on the Center’s website or by directly contacting Director of Development Ellen Dyer. The nomination deadline is March 15, 2020.

The Teaching the Teachers scholarships that have already been awarded for 2020 have gone to Eldon High School in Eldon, MO; The MiLL in Colorado Springs, CO; Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, NY; Narragaugus High School in Harrington, ME; Lansdowne High School in Lansdowne, MD; and Granite School District in Salt Lake City, UT. Additional partner institutions in the program are Alexandria City Public Schools in Alexandria, VA; Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, ME; Greater West Town Community Development Project in Chicago; IL; Kids Making It in Wilmington, NC; Machias Memorial High School in Machias, ME; Messalonskee High School in Oakland, ME; and Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, OR.

To advance Teaching the Teachers, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship also affiliates with advocacy organizations that promote woodworking education for vocational training and economic development. Current affiliates are the Michigan Industrial and Technology Education Society, the Northern Forest Center, and the Wood Career Alliance of North America. Financial support for Teaching the Teachers is provided by the Mattina R. Proctor Foundation, the Horowitz Family Scholarship Fund, and the Betterment Fund.

The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship invites inquiries from potential institutional partners and affiliates. For more information, please contact: Ellen Dyer, development director, 207-594-5611.

WCA President Talks Training, Credentialing and More

The Woodwork Career Alliance of North America heads into the 2020s building on the solid foundation of its Passport credentialing program that is widely recognized throughout the United States and Canada.

In a recent free-wielding phone interview, Scott Nelson, president of the WCA, discussed the North American wood product industry’s ongoing challenge to recruit, train and retain skilled employees. He also provided his thoughts on how companies can use the WCA’s credentialing program to meet those multiple challenges and discussed plans for rolling out WCA 4.0 to accredit employees who work in manufacturing cells.

Rich Christianson: Since its inception in 2007, the Woodwork Career Alliance has developed more than 300 woodworking skill standards and grown its database of registered Passport holders to nearly 2,600. At long last, the woodworking industry has a credentialing program to rival metal working, automotive, welding and other skilled trades. With those accomplishments as a backdrop, what do you view as the WCA’s biggest achievement in 2019?

I am extremely gratified by the increased use of the WCA credentialing program.

Scott Nelson: I am extremely gratified by the increased use of the WCA credentialing program. Last year we added a record 507 new individual Passport members. Even more telling, we issued 418 credentials representing a 50 percent increase. It’s fantastic that we’re finally starting to see the number of new credentials approaching the number of people who are issued Passports. That means a greater percentage of Passport holders are being tested to the Skill Standar

Christianson: Who were these credentials issued to last year?

Nelson: The vast majority of the credentials were awarded to high school students for earning their Sawblade Certificate. But we’re also seeing a smaller, yet still healthy, increase in professional accreditations.

On the high school level, we’re seeing more woodworking teachers starting to test their kids. It’s one thing for instructors to just sign up their students for WCA Passports, but it’s another for them to take the time to administer the skill evaluations, record the individual student’s tool points and see that their qualified students take the online test to ultimately receive their Sawblade Certificate.

Christianson: Why do you think more high school woodworking instructors are making the effort to test their students now? What’s changed?

Nelson: First, I think more teachers are prioritizing evaluations and testing for the Sawblade Certificate as part of their lesson plans and schedules. It takes time to do any of those tests. They have to plan for it and until they’ve done it the first time, they really don’t know how long it takes. Once they become familiar with how it works and how long it takes, they are able to make it part of their day-to-day curriculum.

Second, we’ve seen a lot of credentialing activity in Wisconsin where public high school programs qualify for special funding based on national certification, which is what the WCA is all about. Colorado also is putting this type of government reimbursement program in place, again based on being affiliated with a recognized certification organization like the WCA. These funds are very important for supporting those high school programs and keeping them viable in an era when woodworking programs are more likely to be reduced or eliminated than improved or started. Hopefully we’ll see more states adopt this type of funding model in the next few years.

In some ways, we’re in a race against time. On one hand, I think more and more schools are realizing the benefit of being an EDUcation member of the WCA. It brings structure and additional legitimacy to being part of a program that was created with industry needs in mind. Unfortunately, while we gained nearly 30 new high school programs last year, we lost a similar number. In most cases, the program is no longer there. A lot of times the woodshop teacher leaves or retires and the school can’t find a replacement because most require industrial arts teachers to have a teaching certificate. There just aren’t enough teachers with woodworking experience to fill the gaps.

Christianson: You mentioned that WCA has made inroads among woodworking professionals. How so?

It takes a dedicated effort to create an effective formal training program. But once it’s in place, it can be used over and over again. There’s a long-term payoff.

Nelson: Getting industry participation has been a tough nut to crack, but we are making gains as attested by the 54 green credentials we issued in 2019. Our first challenge has been to make industry aware of the WCA credentialing program and how they can use it to develop in-house training programs for new and current employees. Then, companies have to be willing to put in the time. Every plant has a different set of circumstances so consequently there has to be a champion in each plant for it to work. It takes a dedicated effort to create an effective formal training program. But once it’s in place, it can be used over and over again. There’s a long-term payoff.

A common concern among woodworking companies is the fear of “If I train them, they’ll leave.” That’s a big problem for the industry and the WCA. They are afraid to spend the time and money to train somebody, give him a credential and then maybe see that person go work for the shop next door for more money. That’s human nature and they have to get over that.

Companies also have to understand that they may not have the right opening for someone who has acquired new skill sets from their training but the other company might have an opening. So, the employee is going to leave for a better opportunity. That’s just the way it is.

Christianson: How can the WCA credentialing program help a company retain employees they train?

Nelson: A good real-world example of how the WCA standards can be used by industry is Jefferson Millwork. They were pioneers in adopting the WCA credentialing program not only to structure training for new hires, but to create an incentive program that ties pay raises to employees who grow their credentials. Last fall, Jefferson was the first woodworking company to award the red credential to an employee. They proved it can be done. We can only hope that other woodworking companies are paying attention.

Having a good training program in your plant is always going to increase your bottom line because of greater productivity, fewer mistakes and fewer do-overs.

I honestly don’t understand how companies can skimp when it comes to training their employees. Having a good training program in your plant is always going to increase your bottom line because of greater productivity, fewer mistakes and fewer do-overs. When you have someone coming in fresh off the street you have to teach them the basics. They have to understand what your products are, what their characteristics are, why controlling moisture is important, the machines and tools you are working with, and how to read a tape measure. These are basic things that have to be taught. Just having Joe follow John around for six months is not enough. You need a formal training program so that the new hire knows this week we’re covering this, in week two we’re going to cover this, in week three we’re going to cover that.

It all starts with a company’s culture. If you want an employee to stay, you need your training program to be tied to a career path for them. But an employer can’t tell the employee what it means to go from A to Z if the company doesn’t have a formal system in place for evaluating the employee’s progress. Again, this is where the WCA comes in.

Christianson: What’s on tap for the WCA in 2020?

Nelson: At last year’s AWFS Fair we announced plans to develop the WCA 4.0 credentialing program to complement our current Passport program. We recognize that there are a lot of woodworkers who are working in cell-based manufacturing environments who would have a hard time earning credentials based on our current tool points system. The basic concept of WCA 4.0 is to help an employee develop their skills within their cell and then be cross-trained to work in additional cells. Theoretically the employer would compensate the worker based on how much value they are able to add in terms of productivity, maintenance, etc. The more sophisticated the machine or cell and the more cells that person can work in, the more valuable he becomes to the company. So now when someone is absent, their lines do not stop.

The cream always rises to the top. The newer employee is going to have to acquire experience but you still have to test him through the whole process. He can say that he can do everything but you have to test him to be sure. By running a test, you might find he’s where he needs to be or behind or maybe even ahead. If you don’t have a testing program, you don’t have any way of knowing it.

We are not the teaching arm. We are the testing arm and a certifying body.

WCA has the test. We’re not going to tell you how to teach your employees. However, we have resources and information that can help companies develop their training programs. We are not the teaching arm. We are the testing arm and a certifying body.

Christianson: What’s the next step for WCA 4.0?

Nelson: We are planning to partner with Woodworking Network on a benchmark industry survey that goes beyond simply reaffirming the woodworking industry’s long-stranding struggle to find and keep good workers. We want to identify ways to help the industry meet that challenge. This includes gathering information from woodworking companies about some of the key components for structuring WCA 4.0 and how we can best deliver this new credentialing program to them. We have ideas, but we want to verify that what we are doing it correctly and to solicit input for improving on our ideas.

We want to offer solutions to help individual companies by creating a flow of knowledge. Every company is different. Some use panels, some don’t. Some make mouldings, some don’t. Some do piecework only, some don’t. Our goal is to create a menu of options that each company can choose from based on their circumstances.

We will be publishing the key results of the study and will have more to share at IWF in Atlanta. Bruce Spitz (past president of the Architectural Woodwork Institute) and I will present a How to Create Your Own Training Program workshop. Attendees will have the opportunity to develop their own training template using WCA skill standards. Some guys are going to want to emphasize the WCA Passport program and some are going to be more interested in WCA 4.0. We’ll cover both in the workshop.

Christianson: Any final words?

Nelson: Like it or not, woodworking companies have to understand that they are competing with higher paying jobs in other industries. That’s not only a perception, it’s a reality. If we can’t afford to pay our people as well as other manufacturing jobs, then it becomes even more vital to create career paths that reward them based on their desire and ability to enhance their skill sets.

Every company experiences turnover. The goal is to minimize so that it only happens at entry level. Once you’ve invested a couple of years in training someone, you presumably would want to keep that person. Having a written plan that rewards an employee for achieving specific goals that can be fairly evaluated shows that you care about that person’s career.

Sometimes the best person to keep is someone who shows up to work, has a great attitude and is a positive influence on your operation. Once you have the formal plan in place, you are on track to make someone a great employee for life.

WI School District Opens Center for Design and Innovation

The Wauwatosa School District celebrated the completion of its new $1.3 million Wauwatosa Center for Design and Innovation on Thursday, January 30 with a ribbon-cutting and tours of the renovated space located inside Wauwatosa West High School. The school is an EDUcation member of the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America.

City, state, and business leaders were invited to celebrate the new Center, which is the district’s first Fabrication Lab. In the Center, students have access to digital manufacturing, CNC, and traditional manufacturing equipment, as well as design software.

“The Center for Design and Innovation is about just that – helping students to be creative, problem-solve, develop solutions, innovate ideas, and collaborate – all core competencies of our vision for every Wauwatosa graduate,” said Superintendent Phil Ertl. “This space is also about reframing what it means to pursue technical education and preparing students for in-demand, high-paying jobs in the trades.”

The new machines that have been added will allow Wauwatosa students to train on state-of-the-art equipment they would find in the real world, preparing them for careers of the present and future.

“We literally can design and make almost anything. For this reason alone our ability to research and develop solutions to problems is unmatched in the area,” said Bill Morse, a former technical education teacher at West High School who is currently working in a consulting role on the project. “The combination of the modern facilities, cutting edge equipment and technology, growing industry connections, committed teachers from across varying curricular areas and leadership makes Wauwatosa a true leader, not only in Tech Ed, but within the maker space community in the state.”

Three separate rooms, which included wood and metal shops were converted to an open space where students can see the entire process of design and manufacturing from the brainstorming phase, to design, to product development.

Wauwatosa students provided tours of the space and demonstrations of the equipment to guests, which included local business leaders, State Rep. Robyn Vining, State Sen. Dale Kooyenga, Wauwatosa Mayor Kathy Ehley and Wauwatosa District 6 Alderwoman Allison Byrne.

The Wauwatosa Center for Design and Innovation was completed through a phased renovation of the technical education space inside Wauwatosa West High School, with the first phase of work completed in summer of 2018. The second phase began in summer 2019 as one of the projects included in the District’s facilities referendum. The District has also been awarded several grants toward the project, including a $24,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) in 2019.

The Center for Design and Innovation will support the Wauwatosa School District’s ongoing efforts to ensure its students are college, career, and life ready and will expand the District’s offering of hands-on learning in science, engineering, art, and math.

Students from both Wauwatosa high schools are able to take courses in the center. In the future, the goal is for students who are not taking one of the anchor courses designed for the Center for Design and Innovation to be able to use it on a walk-in basis or when their clubs meet. During that time, they will be able to tinker, explore, and invent using the various pieces of digital equipment, under the supervision of a staff member.

The long-term plan is for the District to allow all Wauwatosa residents access to the Center, creating a community-based experience.

Newspaper: ‘Students Learn Real World Skills’ in RCHS Woodshop

The Morris Herald recently published a feature on the Reed-Custer High School (RCHS) woodworking program in Braidwood, IL.

The article highlights instructor Mark Smith’s commitment to teaching students not only how to work wood, but the business of woodworking as well.

The article notes, “(S)tudents learn business acumen, industry standards and how to network with professionals, right alongside carpentry, engineering, architectural design and how to use tools and machinery. Businesses court them before they graduate.”

RCHS is an EDUcation member of the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America and Smith is a member of WCA’s education committee. Pathways ran an article on Smith last summer emphasizing the many ways he publicizes his program and how it has helped him develop industry partnerships.

Read the Morris Herald’s article about the RCHS woodworking program.