Cynthia Bleskachek began The Funky Little Chair as a Facebook page with one simple goal: let students see inside the average workday of an upholstery professional.
From Minneapolis, we shared client projects in process, celebrating the skill, nuance and complexities of being “at the bench.” We committed to being honest in our successes and struggles, and invited followers to be part of the conversation.
As our audience grew, interest in professional training grew too, and in 2014 The Funky Little Chair launched its first dedicated teaching space. Our goal was to provide local students with better access to support, while also offering casual classes for hobbyists. We quickly discovered that in-class hours were woefully inadequate to help students achieve their goals.
In year two, we began to actively explore the integration of video instruction into our teaching. We launched a dedicated YouTube channel with project content that students could access before, during and after class. This allowed us to give students greater focus during workshops, and to provide all students with tools to keep learning outside of the classroom.
And still our audience grew.
What we had assumed was a unique local training desert turned out to be a national phenomenon. Programs around the country were shuttered or teaching out, even as skilled tradespeople retired en masse, often taking businesses with them, and revealing far too few candidates prepared to replace them.
With a particular interest in aspiring professional students, we began to look more closely at apprenticeship paths, and training/working relationships in general. How could education better support entry into the job market? How could we get promising students further, faster, with minimum resources? How might businesses be brought into the conversation?
These questions led to exploratory relationships with a small number of students, professionals, and educators. These explorations founded a national trade association and provided a much clearer understanding of the complexity involved in training candidates for vocation.
Solutions would be complex, but the market need was evident, as was student interest. One thing was clear: online training would be essential.
Unfortunately, we never claimed to be “computer people.” How could FLC possibly manage the time, resources and learning hurdles of adding professional quality online training, while still maintaining a rigorous workshop and client schedule?
Be careful what you wish for, reader – you just might get it.
As COVID forced us to stay home, it also created an opportunity to reevaluate.
We spent the length of the pandemic learning, building, stumbling, growing . . . what would it actually take to see these ideas through?
In the spring of 2021, we prepared to relaunch in a new space, welcoming back live students while also offering new, in-depth, online training programs aimed at incoming professionals and small workrooms. We hope and believe our tool kit is better than ever for helping students move their skills forward toward professional success, and for advocating on behalf of our chosen trade.
We believe in perpetual improvement and are committed to demonstrating it. The FLC story isn’t over yet – but we’re proud to have traveled so far, we’re excited to meet you where we are, and we can’t wait to keep moving forward together.