Seattle’s Wood Technology Center Is Changing How We Think About Trade Careers

 

“As a company with a long history of supporting the trade industry, we are proud of the Wood Technology Center’s efforts towards workforce development.”

Jim Coshow


This month, Dunn Lumber is celebrating the work Seattle Central College's Wood Technology Center is doing to reshape the perception of trade careers through cutting edge technology and instruction. We visited the center this fall and spoke with Dave Borgatti, one of the faculty members, to learn about the history of the Wood Technology Center and Seattle’s trade industry.

Over the past several decades, the decline of vocational education offerings in schools (something we covered last year in our Death of Shop Class series) has led to the mischaracterization of trade careers. Less exposure to trade work in schools results in the growing perception that a career in the trades has less value than a college education.

Seattle’s Wood Technology Center (WTC)—part of Seattle Central College—is on a mission to change that notion. The space that holds the center in Seattle’s Central District is a visual indication of that mission: It’s a work of architectural art—vaulted, beamy, constructed of richly grained woods, and full of forward-thinkers who pull from Seattle’s woodworking history to instruct the next generation of carpenters. Filled with classrooms and wood shops, the center serves as fertile ground for students of all ages and backgrounds who want to pursue careers in architectural millwork, fine furniture making, residential construction, and boat building and repair.

The center is working to revive what resident instructors refer to as the loss of the “garage” mentality since shop classes began to disappear in the 1980s. “You used to go out to the garage after dinner and tinker—there wasn’t all this time in front of a screen,” says instructor Dave Borgatti.

Today, the “garage” mentality is making a comeback. WTC attracts a range of learners: students just out of high school, people looking to get into construction, and those looking for some creative respite from the corporate world. According to Borgatti, the school has seen several corporate professionals come into the program with amateur interest and leave with a career pivot.

Reviving Seattle’s marine carpentry history

The Wood Technology Center has deep roots, and part of executing its mission is educating students and the community on the storied history of carpentry in the Seattle region. As a city built on the boating industry, the origins of the Wood Technology Center go all the way back to the early 1900s (right around the time Albert Dunn arrived in Seattle) when Seattle’s public school system strongly promoted trade education.

One of the center’s most prized treasures is its library. The collection is one of the most comprehensive archives of construction history in the city—including certain rare gems like some of the oldest volumes of Howard Chapelle’s boat designs. Each year, the student council contributes up to $4,000 of new materials to continue to grow the collection.

seattle marine carpentry
seattle marine carpenters

Top-notch woodworking instruction

Courses here are taught by master craftspeople who share a deep understanding of and commitment to excellence in trade work. Students—many of them here to pivot into a second career—learn the skills, techniques, and safety measures to prepare them for successful careers in various trades before moving on to specialize in a specific craft like millwork or marine carpentry. Whether students are new to carpentry or know their way around a woodshop, instructors emphasize broadening their experience by exposing them to new projects, technologies, and tools.

While the center had to close for most of the summer due to COVID-19, the building recently reopened for limited in-person classes. Faculty are excited to have the shop back up and running and have students back in the classroom.

Here’s a deeper look at WTC’s program offerings:

carpentry program

Pre-Apprenticeship Construction Training (PACT) Program

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for carpenters will grow by 24 percent between 2012 and 2022. To meet this demand, WTC offers an entirely free program specifically designed to provide carpenters with the skills they need to make a successful living in building and construction. The PACT program trains students on hand and power tools, industrial safety, trades math, forklift operation certification, road flagging certification, OSHA 10, and first aid/CPR. To read more about the PACT program, visit the PACT program page.

carpentry apprenticeship program

Boat Building and Repair Program

Initially focused on boat building, the Wood Technology Center began teaching general carpentry in the late 1930s. By 1946, it had expanded its curriculum to include cabinetmaking and millwork—but marine carpentry is still at the core of the center’s course offerings today. As Dave Borgatti says, “If you can build a boat, you can build anything.”

Boatbuilding skills are highly transferable—according to Borgatti, many reputable design/build firms (especially here in the Seattle area) hire craftspeople who have boat building backgrounds. Students who graduate from the program with an Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS) degree leave being able to function in the professional world, knowing their way around hull construction, joinery work, outfitting, fiberglass lay-up and repair, spray-gun techniques, and resin infusion. Projects and assignments focus both on traditional and modern boat building techniques. Communication and strategic thinking are essential in any trade—and beyond the hard skills, WTC’s boat building program ensures its graduates leave with all the soft skills they’ll need to be successful, too. To see a full breakdown of the course curriculum, visit the Boat Building and Repair program page.

boat carpentry shop

Cabinetmaking and Architectural Woodworking Program

This program prepares creative minds for a rewarding career in the design and construction of furniture and fixtures. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, northwest Washington is one of the country’s highest-paying regions for architectural woodworkers. The program exposes students to real-world situations under the guidance and support of industry leaders who combine technical instruction with shop experience and precision training.

Students who graduate from the program with an AAS degree learn how to work safely in professional shops, understand the nuances of client relationships and customer service, and leave with a firm grasp on the balance between craftsmanship and economics to produce viable products. Career paths include jobs in specialty wood shops, cabinetry shops, countertop manufacturers, and milling and lumber companies. To learn more about the program curriculum, visit the Cabinetmaking and Architectural Woodworking program page.

Residential Carpentry Program

Designed for entry-level students and professionals who want to brush up on best practices, this five-quarter AAS degree program helps students of all backgrounds become highly skilled workers in the construction industry. Course work prepares students to transfer seamlessly into professional careers upon graduation, with specialties ranging from framing and roofing to building science and historic preservation.

Beyond the hard skills, the program also educates students on the soft skills required for success: learning how to communicate and understand interpersonal relationships with coworkers and clients; how to develop strategies to overcome project obstacles; enhanced understanding of the relationship between cabinetmaking and marine carpentry; and the business aspects of carpentry. To learn more about the program, visit the Residential Carpentry program page.

 

Supporting the trades

As a company with a long history of supporting the trade industry, we are proud of the Wood Technology Center’s efforts towards workforce development. Dunn Lumber donates materials and tools to help support WTC’s programs and invites our community to join our efforts to sustain this important educational asset.

To learn how to donate tools and materials, email Woodtech.Central@seattlecolleges.edu, or visit woodtech.seattlecentral.edu.