When Kelly Victor-Burke of Burke Architectural Millwork (BAM) in Livonia, Mich. started her journey to find skilled help for her shop in 2017, she never imagined her efforts would have an impact on the entire woodworking industry. Now, after receiving full approval of her self-designed Department of Labor registered apprenticeship in the fall of 2020, she is encouraging shops nation-wide to participate.
“This is a registered apprenticeship that can be adopted by any company in the wood industry across the entire U.S. and any employee that would work for those companies,” Burke said in interview with Woodshop News.
“Getting the message out is just as important as writing the apprenticeship. Now we’re switching into the mode of telling other companies, that’s why I’m honored to speak about this at different industry events and trying to get the message out and it’s been successful.”
Victor-Burke co-founded BAM with her husband Barry Burke in 2016, which operates out of a 9,000-sq.-ft. facility with as many as six employees. An experienced educator, she taught for 30 years at Eastern Michigan University as co-director of the Geotourism & Historic Preservation Bachelor of Science Program until her retirement in April 2020 to concentrate on company growth.
But she soon realized there wasn’t a specific program to train new full-time employees on the necessary skills, such as CAD drafting, CNC operation, cabinetmaking and estimating. To make matters worse, what existed was outdated.
“I just really thought we have a problem. If our registered apprenticeships are outdated, antiquated, and they don’t meet the need of businesses, let alone, they’re not attractive at all to young people, you’ve got a problem. It’s not that I thought I was a superhero, I just thought I had common sense. I felt like if it makes sense, if they say we can create our own, let’s do this the right way and collapse these separate apprenticeships and make them into one, so that’s what I did,” she says.
For three years, she worked with a team of business owners, educational partners and industry organizations to draft the initial framework to address the employment gap in the wood products industry through cross training and upskilling new and existing employees in a combination of CAD, mechatronics, wood processing, coatings, estimating and project management.
BAM now has the nation’s first Woodwork Manufacturing Specialist apprentice, Logan Leinbach.
Burke recently spoke about the program at the 2021 AWFS Fair in Las Vegas. She is currently working with companies throughout Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Colorado and Washington state who want to set up programs.
“I’m more than willing to help other companies out and because of Covid we’re actually able to meet in even better situation, which is virtually.”
She says anyone interested in more information can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.