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 education 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 bit.ly/CMA-savante
“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.”
This year’s trade show in Atlanta was amazing, to say the least. Attendance was the best it's been in 10 years, and you could tell: the aisles and booths were quite crowded.
We began the week with shop tours of local CMA shops on Tuesday. The tour sold out and the bus was full! The day
concluded with a BBQ at Dark Horse Woodworks – an amazing example of Southern hospitality and a great way to connect with other members before the show began.
In addition to welcoming CMA members who visited our booth when the show opened on Wednesday, we also began hosting our seminars – there were 12 throughout the show, and they were well-attended and well-received.
Wednesday evening we continued our tradition of hosting a “What’s Your Problem?” roundtable discussion. We filled the room, and the conversations were lively and lengthy. Many members’ takeaway was their relief that other cabinetmakers have the same if not similar problems.
On Thursday, we held the Wood Diamond Awards ceremony and recognized members and the superb quality of their work.
That evening, we gathered for our Annual Membership Appreciation Banquet at Gordon Biersch Brewery in Buckhead. Throughout the evening, we offered tours of the nearby SubZero showroom. It was another great opportunity to network with like-minded professionals and also see the amazing craftsmanship of Exclusive Woodworking in the SubZero showroom.
All in all, it was a great show. Connecting with other members and learning from each other is what we are all about, and participating in trade shows like IWF is one of the ways we fulfill the mission of the CMA.
Woodworking Network (WWN) ran a story in its FDMC magazine about a unique cross-country CMA collaboration that was sparked by an offhand conversation.
The WWN story detailed an October 2017 working shop visit in which CMA board member Chris Dehmer (Dark Horse Woodworks, Atlanta) and CMA president Matt Krig (Northland Woodworks, Blaine, MN) spent time at member Leland Thomasset’s Taghkanic Woodworking in Pawling, NY. Dehmer and Krig were going to be nearby for a regional CMA event, and they thought it would be great to make a hands-on visit to Thomasset’s shop.
“We went in work clothes and helped with the day’s work,” Dehmer says in the article. “We assembled cabinets, did some edgebanding, helped with miter-folding, helped with the CNC and also got a hands on-with Cabinet Vision.”
The article offers up more details as well as advice from the three on planning an effective working visit.
“Weeks later, we are still thanking each other for what we learned, implementing changes in all three of our shops and giving updates,” Krig says.
The entire article is included below for you to download and learn more.
To help kick off our 20th Anniversary celebration, we asked William Sampson, one of the founders of the CMA to share his memories of how the organization came to be. Enjoy!
This January marks the 20th anniversary of the official birth of the Cabinet Makers Association, but the organization’s roots date back even farther than that snowy first day just outside Chicago.
The tale involves a handful of cabinet shop owners who had never met before and a couple of magazine editors who started as competitors and quickly became colleagues.
In the beginning
I originally floated the idea of an association for small shop professional woodworkers in 1995 in the first issue of WoodshopBusiness magazine. I had previously worked as editor of Fine Woodworking magazine, and I had launched this new publication after meeting lots of spectacular woodworkers who were struggling because they had no formal business training. But I confess I was too busy trying to grow my magazine to put any serious effort into the association idea.
Then, a few years later, one of my competitors, CabinetMaker magazine, started to get the ball rolling on the idea of an association. Bruce Plantz, editor of CabinetMaker, suggested the association idea in both FDM and CabinetMaker. He also posted about it in an online forum and got nearly 100 responses, mostly from smaller shops.
At the same time, their management was negotiating to buy my magazine, and Bruce invited me to Des Plaines, Illinois, to conclude our magazine negotiations and help spearhead the launch of the association we had both talked about. During our meeting in Des Plaines, we determined that I would take over as editor of CabinetMaker (incorporating my WoodshopBusiness readership) and also take the lead in trying to get the new cabinet shop association off the ground.
Bruce invited five shop owners to join us, and I joined four of them at a face-to-face meeting in Chicago.
Idea to reality
That snowy day meeting of the original board members on January 9, 1998 was the official beginning of what is now the CMA.
Mike Langenderfer came in from Ohio; Jim McDermott from New York; Bob Buckley from Tennessee; Keith Hill from North Carolina, and I flew in from Connecticut. Tom Austin from Texas joined us by telephone. Langenderfer became the CMA’s first president; McDermott, the first vice-president; Buckley, inaugural treasurer, and Hill, inaugural secretary. Austin became our first board member at large, and I became the association’s first executive director. CabinetMaker magazine was named as the management company for the group.
In our two days together, we worked out the basics of incorporation, bylaws, dues and all the trappings that go with a national association. None of us had any real previous experience with this kind of thing, but we were all enthusiastic and hopeful.
McDermott said at the time he hoped the association would improve the professionalism of small shop cabinetmakers.
“There are guys who are not real businessmen who compete and take jobs away from us, and they’re not even really making money,” he said, suggesting the association could improve everyone’s business skills. “Then we can all make more money.”
Everyone from those early days brought a lot of enthusiasm, great ideas and loyalty to the CMA.
Bob Buckley was excited about providing networking opportunities. He wanted to create lots of meetings that included face-to-face round table opportunities to share ideas.
“We’re going to offer members of the association the opportunity to sit and talk with other cabinetmakers who they don’t compete with to help all of us solve problems,” he said at the time.
Long after serving out his term as treasurer, Buckley has remained active in the organization. He eventually closed his shop and retired from cabinetmaking, but he couldn’t stay away. He has recently returned to the industry, helping Cabinotch develop its new line of frameless cabinetry.
Keith Hill echoed Buckley’s emphasis on networking and sharing information between non-competing shops. He also wanted to spearhead an active online forum, and he trumpeted CMA events at trade shows and regional get-togethers. While he has left the industry, he still maintains contact with many of his CMA colleagues.
Tom Austin remained active in the CMA until his untimely death some years later.
Jim McDermott eventually served as president of the association and later as its executive director.
Mike Langenderfer shifted his business from cabinets to countertops, but continues to be an advocate for the value of small business associations as an officer on the board of the International Surface Fabricators Association.
After a number of years managing the CMA, CabinetMaker stepped aside to allow the organization to grow. Even after I was no longer executive director, I actively supported the organization at regional trade shows and with education sessions and publicity through my current role as editor of FDMC.
Today, I applaud how the association has grown and am frankly amazed at what became of an idea hatched by a couple of editors and five shop owners.
Happy anniversary, CMA!
- William Sampson
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