New Program at Hocking College Responds to Growing Need for Skilled Craftwork
Hocking College has recognized the need to prepare and produce individuals who have the skills and abilities to be successful in industries where demand is outpacing workforce supply, like architectural millwork and cabinet making – one of Hocking College’s newest program offerings.
With the rich forests and regional heritage of producing value-added wood products, it was surprising to learn that most of the economic activity related to wood production happens outside of Appalachian Ohio, despite the fact that most of the wood harvested in Ohio comes from Ohio’s Appalachian counties.
ACEnet has operated a shared use-wood center in the Nelsonville Business Center that is expanding to better meet and serve regional woodworkers graduating from Hocking College’s architectural millwork and cabinet making program. New equipment at ACEnet includes a spray booth, re-saw, additional bandsaws, planers, jointers, table saws, and other implements that graduates of Hocking College are certified to use prior to graduation. This has ACEnet set-up to receive entrepreneurial graduates from Hocking College into an incubator space designed to dovetail with the instruction and machine-use experience that is provided through Hocking College.
ACEnet believes in working with entrepreneurs in a way that enables their businesses to grow profit, so through acquiring the capital intensive equipment and locating it in the shared-use space, we are working to decrease economic barriers to woodworking entrepreneurs.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, overall employment in the craft and fine artists sector is projected to grow 14 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. The Cabinetmaking and Architectural Millwork program at Hocking College, currently finishing up its inaugural year, is poised to help fill that growing need. This two-year intensive program will provide its students with hands-on learning in design, construction and installation of commercial and residential interior architectural woodwork.
According to program manager Chris Hedges, “The potential for a program like the cabinet making program at Hocking College is huge. When students exit this program, they will have learned all of the foundational technical skills needed to work in a cabinet shop, as either an employee or owner. One of the components of the program will be an entrepreneurial component.”
The wood lab is impressive– equipped with state-of-the-art machinery and a range of industry-standard machinery like table saws, shapers and moulders and traditional hand tools such as saws and hand planes. Students also use technology to learn drafting and CNC (Computer Numerical Control) programs.
Hedges’ resume is equally impressive. Though he didn’t start his career woodworking, he is highly decorated in the field, twice winning Best in Show at the Master Woodworkers Show.
“I grew up in a house full of antiques and those antiques were made by my Grandpappy, so it kind of hooked me on this idea that you could make things that left a lasting impression on people long past the point when you were alive. Before my daughter was born, I first took action on that thought. I decided I wanted to make her something that she could pass on to her family at some point in the future,” he said.
Teaching Sociology at the time for Ohio University, he started spending most of his time in his shop. “There were probably too many nights where I called and said, ‘Hey, I’m sick. And I can’t come to class.’ What I was doing was discovering that I had a passion for woodworking,” Hedges said.
He decided to pursue that passion and focus on woodworking full-time. His training began with a two-year program at The University of Rio Grande’s Fine Furniture Program. For the next decade or so, he ran a successful business and continued to be highly recognized and decorated in the field.
When he was approached by Sean Terrell, the Dean of Workforce Development at Hocking College, about designing and running the Cabinetmaking and Architectural Millwork Program he said, “I nearly jumped for joy because being a teacher is part of who I am. Running the program is a dream come true because I can do both the thing that I love to do and teach it.”
Hedges also hopes to open up the space to the community with the Hocking Makers Network Wood Lab Makerspace, which offers classes and shared equipment. “The most basic belief is that the best thing that we can do for this program or for this facility is to get the community involved. Frankly not everybody wants to enroll in school to learn;this space is also for anybody who wants to discover a new curiosity, or wants it to turn into something more. There’s an entire pipeline of maker spaces and educational programs and shared woodworking spaces set up. If you find that that spark, just like I did, you’ve got opportunities to make something of it,” he said.
Community Update by ACEnet Multimedia Designer, Delia Palmisano, and Small Business Support Specialist and Trainer, Chris Quolke. Photo credit: Delia Palmisano