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Bridging the Gap: Hands-on Woodworking Training Program Develops Skilled Workforce

At first glance, Michigan Career and Technical Institute may seem like a traditional center for higher education. But what's inside its walls is one of the most technically advanced woodworking institutes in the country.

Jim Wellever, the Department Head of the Cabinetmaking/Millwork Training Center, runs a department within the on-campus cabinet shop that trains people with disabilities to operate the machinery that is most likely to be found in woodworking shops across the United States. The program serves as the Midwest Advanced Woodworking Technology Center. Students are trained to safely operate machinery so that they can immediately enter the workforce upon graduation.

Student-centered curriculum

The program has an open enrollment policy for students who don’t have conventional learning styles. Tuition is free to qualifying students thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the program’s accreditation by the Centers for Occupational Education. Students are usually between 19 and 21 years old at the time of enrollment. The average student is in this training program for four to seven ten-week terms, depending on the individual student’s needs.

The curriculum, based on Woodworking Career Alliance National skill standards, trains the students on machines ranging from basic core machinery to automated chop saws and rip saws to molders, sanders, and CNC routers. The program picks machinery brands that are commonly found in woodworking environments, including WEIMA machines.

“We chose a WEIMA shredder due to brand recognition. Students run machines that they will encounter in the field and WEIMA has a large footprint in the area.”

WEIMA is a very proud sponsor of the Woodworking Career Alliance, which works to bridge the technical skills gap and train current and future woodworkers!

 

Experiential education

“What we are good at is giving the students enough experience at learning how to run a machine so that whenever they are entering the market, they know how to learn any machine they encounter,” says Wellever.

Wellever is quick to point out that this type of institutional learning does not qualify as charity. “These students are good workers doing great work. When they leave our program, they are often better equipped to operate machinery than people with 2-years’ experience.”

Upon graduation, the students are matched with area employers and transition smoothly into the work force. This extraordinary program boasts a very high placement rate for their students and looks forward to many more years of educational excellence.

Warmth, safety, and lower energy bills

In the last few years, a WEIMA briquette press was installed in the building as part of a new dust collection system. The 13,000 square foot facility was equipped with a 1960s air system, which provided no return air to keep the building warm. The result was an extremely high power bill due to low energy efficiency. The shop is now equipped with a modern return air system with fire protection, which allows it to be heated continuously throughout the snowy Michigan winters and adds an extra level of safety due to the dust control.

When considering what machine to buy in order to assist in heating the shop, Wellever briefly considered a pelletizer instead of a briquette press. The Institute decided upon a briquette press fed by a WEIMA grinder because no specific pelletizer oven was necessary to burn the briquettes.

 

Long History

2019 marks the 75th anniversary of MCTI.  Beginning in 1944 as the Michigan Veteran’s Vocational school, MCTI has evolved into the second largest, comprehensive vocational rehabilitation facility in the country. As an original trade, the Cabinetmaking/Millwork department has been a steady source of highly qualified workers.