Graham Hicken, Learning Manager of the Holland College Wood Manufacturing/Cabinetmaking program, has seen many of his graduates start their own business on PEI and elsewhere.
“Nine or 10 became entrepreneurs in the last four years, right out of the course. Others graduated, worked in the industry for a while, and then started their own businesses.”
Students in this program develop the skills needed to manufacture cabinets, architectural millwork, and furniture, and receive training in modern manufacturing techniques.
They learn to set up and operate woodworking machinery and equipment, break out lumber and panel components, laminating, veneering, machining, sanding, assembly and finishing. Significant hands-on learning takes place in the shop, which has both manual machines and computer controlled machines.
“During this nine-month program, they learn everything they need to know to enter the industry and earn a good living. Our students graduate with powerful skills, they love what they do, and they turn out a superior product.”
Students are taught basic skills by using manual tools, and then they go on to become skilled with electrical tools and are trained to operate Computer Numerical Control (CNC) equipment. It is a fast-paced, compressed, and intense program.
A three-week OJT is held on location, where they build the cabinets for the kitchens and bathrooms of the cottages constructed by the Holland College Carpentry program. This year for the first time, they also made cabinets for a Habitat for Humanity PEI home.
Students are also given 17 days to create their own personal project from an original design. “Students turn out incredible work. This year, one student who wants to make a living producing percussion instruments made a marimba. A previous student made her own kayak, and it was just beautiful work.”
Graham’s father is a tradesman, and he was exposed to trades all his life. “As a young man, I went into the construction trades in Ontario, and had a lot to learn. On my first job, the employer said the broom was going to be my buddy for three months, until I got a feel for the trade. From there, I went into the apprenticeship program. I got married in 1989 moved to Ontario but then moved back to PEI in 2000, earned my Red Seal, and started with Holland College in 2006.
“I love this trade. I love the smell of the wood, the challenge of new projects, and the reward of a finished product. It is so gratifying and also a big cost saving to be able to build my own home, cabinets, and furniture, and to help family and friends with their projects as well.”
This year's class
There are 12 students in the program, from PEI, Atlantic Canada, British Columbia, and Alberta. “One student has a university degree, and nine women have taken the program in the last three years.” The age of the students ranges from 17 to 64.
Job prospects on PEI
About 75 percent of graduates will stay on the Island to work. “I get calls from local employers as well as employers from the Maritimes and out west looking to hire the students.
“One student is going into business building furniture. He should do well, because no one on the Island is presently doing that kind of work. There is a need for that type of business.”
The starting wage locally is $13 to $14 per hour. “We are pushing for higher wages in the industry on PEI. We can’t match the wages out west, but we can do better.”
Graham encourages people considering a career in trades to speak with trades instructors about the industries and the programs. “As long as they have safety gear, they are welcome to come in for a day and check out the program.”
For more information, contact Graham Hicken at 1-902-888-6709.