PDF iconTraining for a Bright Future

The Michigan Career and Technical Institute trains woodworking students for the workforce with ALPHACAM.

As manufacturing professionals throughout the U.S. continue to lament the lack of fresh industry talent, students of the Michigan Career and Technical Institute’s woodworking program have jobs lined up faster than they can graduate.

“After 30-40 weeks of training, we’re getting some of the highest paying jobs,” says Jim Wellever, department head for cabinet making and millwork training at the school.

Located in Plainwell, Michigan, the institute serves as a vocational rehabilitation facility, and has offered a woodworking program since it’s start in 1944. Today, it is the state of Michigan’s go-to center for vocational training specifically for students with disabilities. With 350 beds and 90 percent residential enrollment, the Michigan Career and Technical Institute, or MCTI, is an immersive experience for its students.

Opened during World War II as a means of training physically disabled veterans, the institute teaches 13 different trades to those with physical, learning and other types of non-visible disabilities — such as deafness, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and dyslexia. Today, the institute continues to offer training for disabled veterans whose attendance is funded by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Employers eager to hire graduates of MCTI are far more concerned with the quality of training than with the disabilities of its students.

“Our goal is competitive employment, so our students are highly employable,” Wellever says. “Most of our employers don’t care about the disability, or don’t know about it.”

Once a self-employed career cabinetmaker, Wellever has taught at the Institute for 15 years, and believes that its remarkable success lies in the strength of its training.

“This program is one of the most successful at the facility, consistently maintaining a placement rate at or near 100 percent,” says Wellever, explaining that the program offers training in complex tasks, such as CNC programming, and in simpler tasks, such as the machine operation and the assembly of finished products.

“We use national skill standards and certify student skills. As far as the woodworking industry goes, this is considered one of the most advanced training facilities in the country.”

In 2004, after acquiring a CR Onsrud CNC router, MCTI began using the ALPHACAM computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) solution, by Vero Software, to train its students in CNC programming.

“Those who use ALPHACAM don’t have any problems using any of the other types of software they run into.”

Jim Wellever, Department Head for Cabinet Making and Millwork Training

ALPHACAM granted MCTI a total of 30 seats of the software for its training purposes.

“Those who use ALPHACAM don’t have any problems using any of the other types of software they run into,” says Wellever, who explains that the software serves as a comprehensive training tool because of its range of capabilities.

MCTI graduate Cord Walker completed the institute’s woodworking program, and has worked at Division Six, a commercial cabinetry and millwork company, since 2012.

While Walker’s official title is ‘shop superintendent,’ he also serves as a sometime-engineer and field carpenter, and is well versed in every aspect of the trade.
“I get a mix of the office and the field, so it’s a balance,” says Walker, who is clearly satisfied with the demands of his position.

Walker, who lived on campus like the vast majority of students at MCTI, says that the program taught him to take pride in and enjoy his work, along with the technical aspects of woodworking and CNC programming.

“Jim Wellever teaches the kids that it’s not just a job, it’s an art,” he says. “You’ve got to love it.”

In addition to being his alma mater, MCTI has become a source for well-trained talent recruited by Division Six.

“I actually hired three people from that school in the last few years,” Walker says. “I like hiring for the school because we have the same equipment that the school does.”

Division Six also uses ALPHACAM for its programming needs, which means that there is no learning curve for newly hired programmers trained at MCTI. For Division Six and other woodworking businesses in search of experienced personnel,

“There are only a few schools in the country for cabinetmakers,” Walker says. “A lot of people in the cabinet-making business are retiring in the next five or six years. It’s hard to find a good cabinet maker who isn’t 60 years old.”

While it doesn’t hurt that several major architectural millwork companies and smaller cabinet shops are located near MCTI — which helps job seekers and employers alike — the need for quality employment and trained woodworkers is apparent throughout the nation.

Herman Miller, Steelcase, Masco, La-Z-Boy, and Haworth are some of the local companies that recruit graduates of MCTI.

“Employers are looking for people who are trained and, if they can’t find people who are trained, they want people with experience,” Wellever says. “The reason we’re getting these jobs is because of the training that they are getting.”

Training runs from two to six terms, with the current average of 40 weeks from start to job placement, which is a total of four terms. The school’s enrollment goal is 20 students, and the program capacity is 24. Students can enroll at the beginning of any of the four terms — Fall, Winter, Spring or Summer — so that there are students in all levels of training at any one time. The program graduates 20-25 students per year.

As part of their training, the students complete a 60-minute ALPHACAM courses four days a week, for a total of 10 weeks. With a homework version of the software installed on their computers, the students are able to learn and experiment with the software at length after regular class time. Students from the Machine Technology and Electronics Training programs also attend Wellever’s ALPHACAM class.

“The students who do well with Alpahcam and the CNC portion of the training are able to visualize,” Wellever says, adding that those with strong visual and spatial reasoning capabilities make ideal programmers.

In addition to completing standard school projects designed to provide a comprehensive skillset, Wellever’s students handle commercial projects for actual businesses.

As such, the students produce a great deal of flooring and often embark on specialty projects, such as creating molding that matches antique molding for customers. Those customers pay for the materials used, and in return, the students accrue real-world experience.

“I highly commend Jim Wellever, as he has done an outstanding job of developing, focusing and honing the skills of MCTI students. It is very rewarding to see these students succeed,” says Jessica Woodall, ALPHACAM sales and services director – Americas.

“Continuing to provide students with the necessary software and machinery tools is crucial in preparing the next generation of professionals who will become important contributors to the growth of the woodworking and CNC industries.”

At a recent job fair, 10 of Wellever’s students were in attendance and all received job offers in a single afternoon.

With the availability of high-quality employment and opportunity in a thriving industry, Wellever believes that the lack of interest on the part of would-be woodworkers is due in part to the bad rap manufacturing has received in the past.

“Manufacturing isn’t dirty, nasty work anymore,” Wellever says, “and we need to do our part to educate potential woodworkers and their parents about the opportunity it presents.”

About the Company

Name: Michigan Career and Technical Institute

Business: Vocational Rehabilitation Facility

Website: www.michigan.gov

Benefits Achieved

  • Increased quality of job-training skills
  • Enhanced employability for students
  • Well-rounded CNC programming experience for students


“Those who use ALPHACAM don’t have any problems using any of the other types of software they run into.”

Jim Wellever, Department Head for Cabinet Making and Millwork Training


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