I apologize if the headline seems bleak, but clearly the time for half-measures and platitudes is over.
Woodworking as an industry is at a delicate precipice. And it is time that those of us who have spent decades wringing our hands about what to do when this day comes, need to step up and do what no one else is doing.
We need to lead from the front. We need to take up the task of hiring, training and inspiring the next generation of woodworkers, if we want our trade to survive.
On one hand, we aren’t lithographers. Our skills and trade didn’t evaporate overnight. If anything, our talents are finally getting noticed, and there is a value being placed on our skills. Computers and robots haven’t replaced the skilled hands that can actually create masterpieces.
But as an industry, we labour under the weight of systematic devaluation, where we are pressured to do everything for less; even as everything costs more. And we compete against each other to see who’ll take that bait.
We all have clients who don’t bat an eye at paying $300/hr for a junior accountant or attorney to review a document; or $150/hr to have their car fixed; but gasp in horror at a $75 shop rate, where we have millions of dollars worth of equipment and dozens of craftsmen, each with decades of experience.
So much needs to change, its daunting to even figure out where to begin.
But if times are truly desperate, isn’t it time for the measures to be as well?
This junction in time may truly be the opportunity for the trade to band together and demand the respect we’ve long earned.
I’m into my fourth decade of feeding my family, providing us all a great life, all from woodworking. I’ve never been ashamed of it. I’ve worn my titles from cabinetmaker to plant manager to estimator with great pride. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, the projects I’ve built, the relationships and reputation I’ve created.
It’s a great privilege to say “I built that,” when I pass a building, even if my kids roll their eyes…
It deeply troubles me to think that others won’t have the same opportunities. The chance to learn, grow and ultimately teach our skills to another generation.
In my various AWMAC roles, I’ve had the fortune to connect with millworkers across the country and beyond; and in almost every case, we all share the same passions, same experiences, and ultimately the same pains.
It only stands to reason that we will have to work together to get things moving.
Decades of government promises have failed to be kept. Infrastructure and education funding have all found sexier destinations. And I know the schools hear us, but like everyone else, they go where the money is.
So, it falls to us.
It may not seem fair, but we owe it to the craftspeople who came before us. To the forgotten artisans of the trade, going back millennia.
In the distant past, guilds functioned as de facto protectors of their trades. Regulating who was qualified to call themselves craftspeople. Keeping their hard-earned skills from being diluted or dishonoured.
Even in this era of HGTV, where everyone is convinced they can slap some paint on an MDF bookcase and call it good; we still have standards of excellence and principles to promote and uphold.
It’s not just AWMAC, it’s everyone. All of us.
We already have skin in the game; maybe its time to double-down.
If we can’t find the people we need; we have to make them ourselves.
And its not going to be easy.
We must go to the high schools, the colleges, and, reluctantly, toot our own horns.
We need to take that chance when we find that spark of interest and hire the apprentices. Whether its subsidized or not.
We need to take the time to train them, guide them, fan that spark of interest into the burning passion we share. And shape them into the next generation of artisans.
We need to up our game when it comes to drawings. To turn our craftspeople into draftspeople and ultimately move them up the chain in our businesses.
We need to want to see them all succeed.
We need to revel in everyone’s successes, not just our own, because ultimately, we will all benefit from them.
We bottom out if we only watch our own bottom line.
There’s good reason hockey stats include assists; because one team = one goal.
Whenever we can, we need to advocate for our trade; to be the evangelists in every crowd. To make sure we’re heard by anyone who can hear; and, maybe, who can help spread the word.
We need to relentlessly lobby governments at all levels. To turn their grandiose promises into concrete plans that can actually work.
Get involved. It begins, and ends, with you.
Officially: join your local AWMAC chapter; join the chapter board; volunteer on a committee; become a part of the team that is working to lead the industry.
Unofficially: talk to your local schools, take a chance with your next hire; invest in your people.
Be proud of who we are; what we do and don’t be shy about it. Not everyone can do this. Not everyone wants to.
Not everyone is able to see the soul of the tree in the grain of the board.
That’s why I say no one is coming to save us. There is no ghost in the machine.
It’s not a cry of despair, it’s a rallying cry. We have to save ourselves.
And maybe, if we take this project on, we can all build each other and woodworking’s future.
That’s definitely a job we can be proud of.