This is the season for high school graduation, and after the parties are over it’s time to adjust to the real world. Kids fresh out of school don’t have a lot of good choices. It’s either off to college, the military or try to find a job. In today’s economy there aren’t many jobs where someone with entry level skills can make a living wage. In Salem, Oregon however, students finishing up their course in cabinet making at North Salem High School are facing a decidedly different scenario. These kids get to decide which job offer to accept. That’s amazing, especially when you consider that most of the students at NSHS live in poverty. How can this happen in an era where more and more schools are closing down shop classes because they are no longer relevant?
The truth is that good training in Industrial Arts is more important now than it ever has been. In spite of all the changes to the American economy in recent years, we still make things out of wood and the biggest challenge to the woodworking industry is the lack of skilled help, or entry level help that has the ability to learn on the job. There are thousands of unfilled manufacturing jobs. As the woodworking industry has modernized, productivity has increased along with the use of CNC equipment. The vacant jobs need people who have good problem-solving skills and a familiarity with today’s equipment and lean manufacturing processes in addition to an affinity for making things from wood. Imagine the possibilities if schools and businesses worked together.
The cabinetmaking program at NSHS is the result of taking a guy with experience in industry and putting him in the classroom. When Dean Mattson came to the program he applied the common-sense approach. He asked “who are the customers and how can we satisfy them?” First in line were the students, who simply wanted to be able to earn a living after high school. Next in line were local cabinet companies, tired of a 90% failure rate of new hires. Mattson put the two together and gained support from machinery manufacturers and industry organizations. In 2013 he was honored by the Wood Machinery Industry Association, and this year gave the keynote address to the annual WMIA conference. The success of Dean’s work has received a lot of attention.
That success deserves a lot more attention and the results from one high school could (and should) be replicated across the country. Imagine what it would be like if students at your local high school or community college learned the values and skills needed by manufacturers in your area. The kids win, local businesses win and ultimately we all win.
I stumbled across this story a while ago, and it is one of the most powerful, meaningful and important stories I’ve ever read. I plan to write more about it in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, here is more information about Dean Mattson, his program at NSHS and most important, the full text of his speech at the 2014 WMIA conference.
Article from Cabinetmaker/FDM: Industry-education Partnership Serves Woodworking Students
Article from Wood Industry: Filling the Skills Gap
Full text of Dean Mattson’s keynote address to 2014 WMIA Conference: The Impact of Industry Support in Today’s Education.
photos originally published by Cabinetmaker/FDM