North Carolina is known as the furniture capital of the world. The state’s furniture industry has 3,000 establishments, more than 36,000 employees statewide, and has more than three times the national average in furniture manufacturing activity, according to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC).
Part of the success of the industry is due to a highly skilled and qualified workforce. The Furniture Academy at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) provides short-term training programs for these high demand jobs in the furniture industry. This summer, the Furniture Academy had 19 students complete its certificate programs.
“Since 2014, the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy has graduated 274 students,” said Lori Miller, Director, Future Workforce Development. “We have 100% of our graduates gainfully employed in the furniture industry.”
The Catawba Valley Furniture Academy is an industry-driven training program designed by local furniture manufacturers to prepare students for skilled positions that are in high demand by one of the region’s largest employers. The Furniture Academy can last from eight to eleven months depending on which discipline the student decides to follow.
“Furniture is one of our largest manufacturing employers in the area,” said Miller. “We provide stackable credentials for the seven skills that the industry indicated were most critical. These are high skilled, high paying jobs.”
Training is offered in seven skilled disciplines: Manual Cutting, Automated Cutting, Pattern Making, Sewing, Inside Upholstery, Outside Upholstery and Eight-way Hand Tie Spring Up.
“In fact, many of our students get hired before they graduate because the need is so huge in our area for these skill sets,” said Miller. “Many of our students are working and going to school at the same time. The industry helped us create the program, so they are very involved and supportive. All of our instructors are employed as craftsmen in the field.”
In April 2015, Golden LEAF awarded $200,000 for equipment to help expand the training capacity of the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy at CVCC, which houses a simulated furniture factory to train workers in skills needed by the industry. The enhanced capacity has helped prepare the college to meet the demand for skilled employees for furniture manufacturers in the area.
The funds awarded by Golden LEAF helped CVCC’s Furniture Academy move from a 6,000-square-foot facility to a 38,000-square-foot facility.
“We have beginning, intermediate, and advanced students moving through the program at all times,” said Miller. “Not everybody starts and stops at the same time. We are excited that so many people have realized what a great career the furniture industry is to go into.”
Four times a year, CVCC offers an introductory course, furniture fundamentals, which every student who wants to go through the Furniture Academy must take. After completing this course, students choose the pathway they want to follow.
“The furniture industry typically promotes from within,” said Miller. “Our graduates really are our best recruiters for the program.”