Jasahan

Entry level woodworking jobs?

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Hey all, asking for some help. As some of you know, I work for a ministry/non-profit. We focus on coming alongside unhirable people and training/employing them so they can re-enter the workforce. We have four businesses in which we do this (wood shop, sewing center, rehab/maintenance, cafe). I work primarily in the woodshop, where we make custom furniture and commercial furniture from recycled pallet wood.

I have realized recently that our shop lacks any sort of structure/system to quickly and effectively train someone. So I'm working on that. I've been doing some research lately into job requirements for woodworking related jobs (cabinet maker, carpenter, furniture repair, crate making), and realizing even more clearly that the shop has a long way to go.

Most of the places require several years experience. That's a problem for us because we don't want to employ someone for years. We want to get them to the point where they can get a good job in the real world (FYI we work one-on-one and intensively on all aspects of their life; we just realize that crisis usually trumps people's decision making and job/financial security can decrease crisis. So we're not expecting life change in a short period of time).

So, I'm trying to find a way to effectively train/equip someone in a shop environment within 90-180 days. So my question is, what are some entry level wood-related jobs? What would be the first step for someone out our door on their way to a cabinet shop?

Now, we do focus on basic job skills: timeliness, communication, taking/following direction, safety, etc. From my experience, showing up on time and willing to work hard and acting professionally puts someone way ahead of most empoyees.

As a bonus question, for those of you in professional shops or carpentry environments, what are the requirements for applicants?

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I suspect that those basic skills you mentioned are going to be top of the list, anywhere. Entry level is likely to mean mostly grunt work at first, so willingness to do stuff others don't care for is a good quality as well. Commercial shops are generally stocked with more specialized and powerful machines than the hobbyist will have, so at least basic knowledge of the machine's function is a plus. Even if your shop doesn't have the big stuff, some academic knowledge of those type machines would go a long way.

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I don't do any of this professionally, but I've seen a big difference between "woodworkers" and "non-woodworkers".  It's so obvious that it's never talked about, and most people aren't even aware of it.  It's knowing about how wood breaks.

 

As an example, I was banging together a simple table with a friend, using home center 2x4s, poplar 1x6s and plywood.  My friend put a nail in too close to the end of a 1x6 and the wood split.  He was surprised that the wood split, and I was surprised that he didn't know that the wood would split.  

 

How did I learn this stuff?  By splitting a lot of wood.

 

A lot of people ask me about designs they come up with, and I can say, "I'd make this thicker" or "you're going to need a diagonal brace on that corner."  How do I know this?  I've seen a lot of stuff break.

 

Even if your guys will be doing what someone else tells them, they are still going to need to look at the wood grain to see which way to feed it into the tool, or know that trying to put a screw into a knot is not a good idea.

 

I don't know how to teach this, but it might not be crazy to have them build some simple structures out of pallet wood, and then break them apart.  Get a real intuitive sense of how strong a joint is, how strong a 2x4 is, how much weaker it gets when you cut a notch in it, how much stronger it gets when you put a small apron on it, where you put the force to break it.  You want them to be able to look at something and say, "don't do that, it'll break".

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"80% of life is just showing up." (or something like that) - Woody Allen

 

I think you're on the right track.  Getting people to arrive on time EVERY DAY and work hard while they're there is mostly what employers want.  The hard part is getting a foot in the door and given a chance to prove yourself.  I'm not sure what kind of social cast-offs you're working with, but it can be difficult these days for people with impeccable credentials and work records to get a job.  It's tough out there.

 

I've never worked in a pro cabinet shop so I don't have any technical training advice on that front, but I will say that the higher the accreditation you can achieve for your own organization, the more clout your endorsement will bestow.

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"80% of life is just showing up." (or something like that) - Woody Allen

I think you're on the right track. Getting people to arrive on time EVERY DAY and work hard while they're there is mostly what employers want. The hard part is getting a foot in the door and given a chance to prove yourself. I'm not sure what kind of social cast-offs you're working with, but it can be difficult these days for people with impeccable credentials and work records to get a job. It's tough out there.

I am certainly aware of that. Pretty much everyone we help has the same issues: no driver's license, no diploma/GED, and a crime history. Some are still on probation.

We try to build meaningful relationships with businesses. And we take that incredibly seriously. And that is our foot in the door. When someone respects us, they'll trust us when we say, "This guy's good and he won't disappoint you." We already have that relationship with a couple people. And I think once they get to that point - no active legal issues and two great job references - they're good to go. Some of the people we help want to start their own businesses, also, and they would hire people from us as well.

Thanks for the ideas. I like the idea of laying an imbecile-level foundation of wood (and machine) knowledge. I think "common" sense is another one of those rare qualities employers beg for.

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I am certainly aware of that. Pretty much everyone we help has the same issues: no driver's license, no diploma/GED, and a crime history. Some are still on probation.

We try to build meaningful relationships with businesses. And we take that incredibly seriously. And that is our foot in the door. When someone respects us, they'll trust us when we say, "This guy's good and he won't disappoint you." We already have that relationship with a couple people. And I think once they get to that point - no active legal issues and two great job references - they're good to go. Some of the people we help want to start their own businesses, also, and they would hire people from us as well.

Thanks for the ideas. I like the idea of laying an imbecile-level foundation of wood (and machine) knowledge. I think "common" sense is another one of those rare qualities employers beg for.

Please remember, no matter how hard you work to make someone's life better, it's never up to you!   And the one thing you cannot depend on is "common sense"..... It's just not very common anymore!

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Common sense is a distillation of your life experiences to date. For me it is common sense not to stand in the middle of a railway track, for somebody who has never seen a train it is not.

 

Part of what you have to do for these people is give them a set of life experiences that can become part of their common sense and that will be of value to a potential employer.

 

Absolutely!  Well said

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I've done a little teaching and mentoring, and in my opinion you want newbies to master the following.

 

1. reading the grain - if they can't do this they cant even prepare stock properly

2. jointing lumber - how the board should be presented to the cutter and what is a realistic depth of cut

3. planing lumber - how the board should be presented to the cutter and what is a realistic depth of cut

4. sanding - what grit to start with, what grit to finish with for a given finish, how many grits in between, special techniques & machines

5. basic joinery - rabbit, dado, mortise & tenon, through & half blind dovetails, miters.

 

 

projects to start them on.

1. picture frames and lift top boxes - These are cheap small projects so it doesn't cost a lot if they mess a lot of them up. it teaches them two things attention to detail, & how to correctly make miter joints. Any joinery, sanding, or finishing flaw is glaring on an 8x5 picture frame.

 

2. long grain cutting boards - again cheap, and teaches them to think ahead about glue ups. anyone can glue 2 or 4 boards together, but 12+ boards requires a plan.

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A lot of accidents happen when a newbie doesn't want to seem like a newbie, and tries to imitate what an experienced person does.  For example...

 

Experienced wood worker needs to cross cut a 3' by 1' board.  Decides to use the table saw by riding the 1' end against the rip fence.  Knows that really he should be using a sled, or a miter gauge preferable with a long fence, but figures he can do it if he's careful.  Checks the table to make sure it's slippery enough,  and makes the cut being very, very careful to keep that 1' edge flat against the fence.  Let's face it - this kind of thing happens.

 

New guy needs to make a cross cut in a 4' by 8" board.  Remembers from safety lectures that he should use a cross cut sled, or a miter gauge with a long fence.  Doesn't see either.  Doesn't want to bug the other workers asking questions, and doesn't want to look like a newbie.  He just saw one of the other guys make a cross cut on the table saw using the rip fence, so he does his cut the same way.

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As a somewhat experienced woodworker, I would not attempt that operation, but I always keep my miter gauge and sled within reach.  For teaching brand new woodworkers, I am with Beechwood.  To add to seeing the old pros do this, there is a plethora of YouTube videos that show doing this same type of operation.  The problem is two fold as well, first it is a safety risk, second, this operation will not square up the ends, unless the reference end was already squared up.

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Ok, guilty. I did something similar today. I usually state that this is a watch me but don't do this type operation.

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1. reading the grain - if they can't do this they cant even prepare stock properly

Right...so, looks like I've got some homework. Rather ignorant of this myself.

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==>So, I'm trying to find a way to effectively train/equip someone in a shop environment within 90-180 days

There are a few remaining traditional cabinetmaker apprentice programs... I would suggest you contact a couple...

 

Around here, Frank's [Klausz] Cabinet shop was running one, but Frank sold the business two years ago to two of his long-tenured apprentices... I don't know if they still run the program... But at it's height, I believe he had about a dozen at any given time. They're good people, give them a  shout:http://www.frankscabinetshop.com/

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==>So, I'm trying to find a way to effectively train/equip someone in a shop environment within 90-180 days

There are a few remaining traditional cabinetmaker apprentice programs... I would suggest you contact a couple...

Around here, Frank's [Klausz] Cabinet shop was running one, but Frank sold the business two years ago to two of his long-tenured apprentices... I don't know if they still run the program... But at it's height, I believe he had about a dozen at any given time. They're good people, give them a shout:http://www.frankscabinetshop.com/

Will do.

I'm seeing (and accepting) that just because we work/train someone in a woodshop environment, that doesn't mean that they then need to go get a job in woodworking or construction/carpentry, or that they're even able to. But we could maybe help them line out a career path, where maybe the next step isn't awesome, but it could get them closer to where they need to be. And I think part of that path could potentially be going to a tech school, or ideally finding an apprenticeship.

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Triple H brought up that people often make mistakes at the end of the day, when they are tired.  That reminded me of something that I and my employees have to learn, that separate more experienced employees from newbies.  You need to learn to monitor your own attention level and gauge how likely you are to make a mistake with a task, how bad a mistake would be, and adapt by double checking, taking a "break" to review the whole procedure, etc.  With woodworking (and many other occupations) a mistake can mean putting a piece in the scrap pile and starting over, or a trip to the ER.

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Triple H brought up that people often make mistakes at the end of the day, when they are tired. That reminded me of something that I and my employees have to learn, that separate more experienced employees from newbies. You need to learn to monitor your own attention level and gauge how likely you are to make a mistake with a task, how bad a mistake would be, and adapt by double checking, taking a "break" to review the whole procedure, etc. With woodworking (and many other occupations) a mistake can mean putting a piece in the scrap pile and starting over, or a trip to the ER.

Well, we also run a coffee shop...so mandatory espresso breaks for everyone!

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I usualing ping-pong back and forth between whether or not someone is truly able to be mechanically inept, or it's just their lack of interest. I know Mike Rowe describes himself as woefully unable to do any sort of mechanical thing. That could be true. If that is the case I guess my first advice is to not try and hammer that square peg into a round hole. If it's not true, and they don't have the interest, then it's trying to hammer a different square peg into an equally round hole.

 

Beyond that, from my experience (both learning and teaching) teach a guy how to do every part of a job. I understand the demands of production line work, where one person screws one screw in a specific place 10,000 times a day, but that's not particularly inspiring, nor does it teach many valuable skills. When I started out in the family business I learned EVERYTHING, and that was because of my own drive to do so. Every other employee in the place had some line they would'nt cross, some job they would'nt do, just because it was "someone else's job". I was, and am able to float between jobs and do things just as effectively as those who didn't take the time to learn everything, and it helps in extrordinary ways, especially now that I run the place.

 

A direct incentive to improve and learn is great, as well. I tell new hires that they are worth to me however much money they can make me. If I have to chase them around with a whip to try and make them earn their pay they aren't worth it. If they're willing to keep excelling and keep producing more, or produce at a higher quality, then the sky is the limit for their reward. So far nobody has risen to my level and allowed me to live in retirement, but hey, it might happen some time soon, right? :P

 

When someone is new assume they know nothing. Tell them how to do everything. The example above of "screw these boards together" vs "screw these boards together, with the outside screws 6" in from the edge" is a great example. You can shortcut the time it takes someone to learn those lessons by being explicit, and save your business a lot of money in the process.

 

And don't push someone to do something they aren't comfortable with, and never ,ever, ever shame anyone for failing or not wanting to do something. Next thing you know someone is using a tablesaw because they don't want to "look like a pussy" and they cut a digit off... Not good for them or the business.

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You say you have a good relationship with some of the local businesses. That seems like the place to start. Try to find one or more places that hire for those entry level positions and talk to the owners or managers. They know what they are looking for and could tell you what skills or knowledge are most needed. Then you can tailor your short term training to those skills and knowledge. I'm sure there are places that would jump at the opportunity to essentially outsource some of the training they have to do with new hires and get a stream of candidates from a program they are familiar with and connected to.

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