The Funky Little Chair began in 2012 as a facebook blog to maintain conversations with local students between workshops, and to share insight into “a day in the life” of a real professional.
In 2016, we moved into a space of our own to dig more deeply into the question of professional training. We worked with local students to increase classroom access, cultivate mentorship, and connect with potential industry partners.
As our local audience became a national following, we began to explore new models for skills training that could better serve both local and remote professional students.
With the global pandemic in 20220, we made the decision to shutter our physical classroom for one year and focus on the development of new online tools and resources.
This is the beginning of FLC Upholstery Training Systems.
With the shift to blended training, we look forwarded to better serving the needs of students and workrooms well into the future.
A note from Cynthia Bleskachek:
When I entered the professional landscape in 2001, my only real thought was that there would be opportunity for a skilled craftsperson of my age. After all, I could see with my own eyes that the upholsterers around me were very near retirement, almost without exception.
What I hadn’t anticipated was that those colleagues would take the businesses and connections with them, leaving behind very little in the way of ready-made opportunity. There would be no work for me if I did not help to reinvent them. And who would there be to hire? Who would there be to work and thrive alongside?
Early on, I developed an interest in education. Initially, this was a simple response to client questions – those very clients who ask about doing the work themselves. I was cautioned by some colleagues not to “train my competition” but this seemed short sighted to me. What better tool for outreach than to get people INTO the workroom, doing the project themselves? And this proved true – awareness of upholstery grew in the most organic and wonderful way as we welcomed clients into the process.
And what of training my “competition”? With each year that passed, this being came less of a potential risk and more of an actively sought outcome. One that was not easily achieved! What we do is incredibly difficult. Education is no replacement for years of experience. What we can teach, when you get down to it, is shockingly incomplete.
And I wanted incoming colleagues. I wanted people to work with.
I was fortunate to live in a city where upholsterers chose to find one another. I could see first-hand the viable market my colleagues were meeting, and plenty more that we weren’t even pursuing. The tired story of upholstery as a dying industry simply didn’t match what I saw.
But how to reignite training, that was a puzzle. One that has perpetually fascinated and frustrated me.
When you start leaning in on training, you discover how challenging it really is. How long it takes to move even a very promising candidate up to an employable level. How much experience they’ll need. How time consuming it is to create training resources. How draining it is to keep the model sustainable.
You also discover the missing pieces – apprenticeship paths, well-managed workrooms, professional networking, trade events and shared industry resources.
Take your very best college professor in whatever field of study you have pursued. Now take away every single thing that is not him/her. Make that professor responsible for putting up the space, creating the content, finding the students, researching and negotiating the job placement, keeping it all in the black.
How successful is your professor now?
Was the professional level education you received simply about the content? About that one class? Or was it so many more pieces of a well-designed puzzle?
Thankfully, through training, you also find the assets. You find the futurists and optimists. You find all the people who are charting pathways through and around the challenges. You see professionals who are working together, finding new markets, cultivating new opportunities.
Oh yes – there is cause to be hopeful.
The exiting barriers to upholstery education are layered and complex.
But we’re not afraid to start.
I believe fiercely not only in the viability of upholstery as a skilled trade: I believe fiercely in the potential of incoming students and professionals to create the solutions we need.
After all, we’ve been doing it since day one. Creating our own classrooms, our own inroads, our own websites, our own businesses, our own professional communities.
We ARE the future.
Everything else is just details.
With all love, optimism and grit,