Upholstery businesses are already aware of today's skills deficit. The question we keep asking ourselves is, "So how can education help?"

How Online Training Programs Could Help You Grow Your Team by Cynthia Bleskachek

When we use the phrase, “professional training,” we consider that to mean skills which are “relevant and employable.”

So as we developed FLC Upholstery 200: Fundamentals, we didn’t just talk with students: we talked with businesses.

What skills would help facilitate apprenticeship success? What would training look like if the primary end goal was employment?

From an educational perspective, this led us to focus on practical, modern skills that are highly relevant in today’s upholstery market, rather than an outdated curriculum that lacks relevance to actual employment opportunities.

But how do we connect the complex dots between student and professional?

With the overwhelming lack of local education, the most realistic strategy for businesses currently looking to grow is training on the job. No small task, to put it lightly.

FLC Fundamentals was created to work for these businesses and their promising candidates. It’s a training accelerator that intentionally walks a student through the skills, processes, terminology and materials they’re most likely to need early in their career. These are the critical building blocks that will prepare an apprentice to be more coachable, and to contribute meaningful value to a business sooner.

This is no theoretical proposition: Our team has extensive first-hand experience with multi-member workrooms, and apprentices within them. We feel very driven to design training in a way that supports mutually beneficial hiring scenarios.

Training through a business can provide serious candidates with access to mentors, experience, and equipment – incredible supports to education.

Investing in a candidate, either with access to practice space, tuition reimbursement, work study, or a scholarship, gives businesses early access to new professionals, and a hiring pool that might not otherwise exist.

But education is no magic bullet – not in any field, and certainly not in upholstery, where fluency demands thousands of hours of practice.

So if you are a business considering apprenticeships as a way of growing your team, here are some practical recommendations to increase your likelihood of success.

Start with realistic expectations

In Minnesota, a Journeyman’s Card requires 6,000 hours of practical experience – that is 3 years, full time. This may not be a perfect metric, but it provides a reasonable place to start. While 6,000 hours may sound intimidating, we serve nobody by hoping that a few months will magically yield a versatile, independent candidate. Part of a business’ focus should and must be on how to successfully work with an apprentice’s skill level at multiple stages in the journey, instead of waiting for a deferred return on investment that is several years away.

Do not set your house on fire.

Are we excited to see more apprentice hires? Absolutely. Do we think businesses are obligated to compromise their own self-interest? Absolutely not. There is always a cost to hiring, but our goal is to help businesses create mutually beneficial relationships with their aspiring team members. You cannot help a student if your business is jeopardized in the process (at least not for long) Working to stay on the tightrope of mutual benefit ensures longer, healthier employment.

Have a recruiting funnel and a defined onboarding system.

Growing a team is as complex as growing a client base. It is NOT a “one and done” proposition, and shooting from the hip will rarely yield desired results. . Smart businesses will focus less on individual candidates and more on their procedures for creating a sustainable pipeline and integrating new hires into the flow. If you cannot hire for skill, are you hiring for schedule? Geography? Culture fit? Specific aptitudes that may indicate trainability? Investing in one candidate is like buying a lottery ticket. Developing a recruiting funnel is like investing in a 401K.

Focus on single skills and stages.

From a classroom perspective, it serves us to teach in full projects – independent learners cannot do much with only one part of a project. But the second we step into a workroom, we’re thinking in skills and stages. Repetition is ESSENTIAL to fluency, and fluency is key for employment. If you need to cultivate speed and independence, you actually need to LIMIT the number of skills your apprentice is navigating simultaneously. So rather than giving her/him full projects, look for opportunities to break off a part of the process and let them repeat it. A LOT. That might mean tearing back, or serging edges, or simple sewing, or executing cut diagrams, or outsiding backs and bottoms. Every business is different, but finding slices of repetition will give you points of entry and advancement. Fabric and frames create variations of their own – give your hire a chance to REALLY get their process down.

DOCUMENT. YOUR. PROCEDURES.

The average upholstery business is operated largely out of someone’s head. That’s a serious problem when you want to delegate – if the only reference is YOU, anticipate an apprentice who interrupts you constantly. NOT really the point. Documenting your expectations and procedures clarifies the information for you, and makes it transeferable to someone else. YES upholstery is intensely custom, but a capable apprentice shouldn’t have to interrupt you with basic questions, like how to document tear back, and what pieces you expect them to keep. If you want to delegate it, you need to define it.

Learn about hiring, management, delegation and small business operations.

The challenges of hiring are not unique to upholstery. So the great news is that there are MANY resources to assist you in these areas. The current skills training deficit makes hiring more challenging, to be sure – but good management can do a lot to override the hurdles. And more importantly, WITHOUT good management, no amount of skill will be sufficient – even in a robustly trained job field, there are plenty of employers who struggle to recruit and retain talent. Learning what YOU can do as a business owner will give you a considerable advantage.

Utilize structured training resources

The truth is, training is never free. It is paid for in dollars or hours, by students or businesses. The question is, does an investment make sense? A well-designed training resource can save significant time and money by getting students to a critical skill level faster. It also helps everyone determine if a career in upholstery is appropriate and attainable. FLC Upholstery 200: Fundamentals is a great resource for accelerating your apprentice. We would recommend at least a short trial period with your candidate before registering, to ensure that they are dependable, coachable, and an overall fit for your business.

We hope these recommendations give you some meaningful food for thought. Hiring is more challenging than ever, but so are the potential rewards for businesses who successfully overcome the barriers.

Learn more about and sign up for our Fundamentals Program.

To learn more about the general principles of hiring, managing delegating, and scaling, here are a few of our favorite books: