BY JOHN BAILEY firstname.lastname@example.org Hickory Daily Record
Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2016 2:31 pm | Updated: 5:52 pm, Mon Jun 27, 2016.
NEWTON - On May 20, it became official -- Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) closed on the building in Newton that will become the new home for the CVCC Furniture Academy.
The program is going from 6,000 square feet to 38,000 square feet at the facility on Locust Street in Newton.
The new building cost was $875,000 with the majority of that money coming from the Catawba County Commission. The building is 10 years old but to build something similar today would cost the college $5.5 million, CVCC Vice President of Finance Wes Bunch said.
Plans are to have the Furniture Academy completely moved from its current location at CVCC’s East Campus to the new site in time for fall classes.
“It’s about as turnkey as we can get,” Bunch said. “We just got to run a waterline to the facility and run some fiber optic cable, but the interior is only minor renovations.”
The City of Newton was also a big help in getting things set up to get the new waterline in place.
The furniture academy is an industry-driven training program designed by local furniture manufacturers to prepare students for skilled, high-demand, high-paying positions in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the annual average wage for an upholsterer is $34,240.
The Academy focuses on seven specific skill sets: manual cutting, automated cutting, pattern making, sewing, spring-up, inside upholstery and outside upholstery.
While CVCC is at the forefront of the program, it's also received help from the founding companies (Century Furniture, Earth-Friendly Upholstery, Lexington Home Brands, Sherrill Furniture and Vanguard Furniture) along with several other community organizations.
“The entire community has really embraced this program to train the future craftsmen of the furniture industry,” CVCC Workforce Development Innovation Center’s Crystal Glenn said. “The founding partners really did this for the furniture industry in general.”
There are currently 35 students in the program this semester with a waiting list for the fall semester.
“What’s really unique about this is that it’s set up like a mini-furniture operation so they’re getting as close to on-the job training as they could get,” Glenn said. “They’re taught by experienced craftsman from our founding partner’s companies.”
The Furniture Academy is all about passing that torch of experience from one generation to the next.
“It’s just hard to find skilled people,” Bill McBrayer, from Lexington Home Brands and State Board member of Community Colleges, said. “I talk about it all the time, other industries have feeder programs and we don’t have a feeder program, so most of our employees are aging out and it’s a skilled position.
"It’s not a machine, so when they leave all their knowledge goes.”
The Academy has helped fill that need for the last two years with highly trained individuals who can take those skill sets anywhere in the country.
“I consider this changing people’s lives," McBrayer said. "We give them careers not jobs."
The benefit of the Academy has reached beyond just the local furniture companies to their suppliers as well. Staple guns, hydraulic lifts and a Gerber cutting machine are just a few examples of items that have been given to the Academy.
“These students are exhilarated in the learning process," CVCC Director of Customized Industry Training Lori Price said. "Normally when you come out of skills training program, it may take a year or 18 months to get up to speed. These individuals that come out of this academy can come up much quicker.”