By ANGELA FARR KING
The Alexander Furniture Academy offers opportunities locally that some may not be aware of. When visiting the Academy, students can be found sewing or upholstering furniture with the close supervision of trainers who are on hand to offer their expert advice in a real factory setting. The merchandise they create is sold from a showroom located at the academy.
Brian Craig is the Director of the Academy and Eunice Mays is the Assistant Director. The Academy was started in 2016 and is part of Catawba Valley Community College. The classes run for six month periods from January to June and from June to December. The classes meet Monday through Thursday evenings from 5-8 p.m., making it possible for those already in the workforce to attend.
The Academy will soon graduate their thirteenth class and they are proud to report a 100% employment rate, meaning that every single graduate has been employed immediately by a furniture factory. Some are employed even before graduation. Craig and Mays said they’ve had 168 graduates so far. Mays oversees the factory floor nightly, as well as the showroom where furniture is sold to the public. She said there is always a list of buyers waiting to purchase their products. Their furniture is known to be of high quality at reasonable prices.
Heather Price, who has loved sewing as a hobby to make quilts and other home projects for years, is currently taking the sewing class and has already been moved from one position at Craftmaster to the sewing room. She said she has been learning to use the computerized machines and after only three weeks into the class, she was asked to join the sewing department. She said this was a great career move for her and a pay raise as well.
Crystal Lackey, one of the sewing trainers at the academy, said she has worked for Craftmaster for 20 years. She enjoys teaching two nights a week to help students learn the sewing trade, but she also benefits by identifying employee prospects.
In this six month class, students are taught all of the different aspects of the furniture sewing trade, so they can work in any category of the sewing department of a furniture factory.
This is also true on the upholstery side of the furniture academy. Trainer Luis Torres explained that students participating in this class “learn from the beginning, from the first staple to the finished product.” He explained that there are eight basic jobs in furniture upholstering and that students at the Alexander Furniture Academy learn all eight of them, making them very employable.
Ross Lafond-Jamison, a current upholstery student said that he signed up for the class after learning about it at the Taylorsville Apple Festival. He said he “always wanted to learn a specialized skill, and this class was offered for free,” so he signed up for it.
Dreama Burns has already completed the sewing class and is now completing the upholstery class. She said she will either use these skills for employment or she will use them for her personal furniture.
Craig and Mays are extremely grateful for the sponsors who supply them with all of the supplies they need to run the classes. They also explained that no one has ever paid for the class because of grants they write for and receive annually from the American Home Furniture Alliance (AHFA), located in High Point, NC. There is another furniture academy located in Catawba County called the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy. AHFA funds grants for both academies.
The directors also noted that they aim to keep classes at a maximum of 15 students per session to ensure a good ratio of trainers to students. They said that the tools needed for the classes are loaned to the students unless they choose to buy them. In the furniture trade, employees are typically required to purchase their own tools, but the academy provides them for use to their students.
Craig and Mays reiterated more than once that the furniture academy could not operate without the donations from their sponsors. They donate everything seen on the academy factory floor used for upholstering and sewing furniture. Their sponsors include Craftmaster, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Kincaid Custom Upholstery, American Home Furniture Alliance, Hancock & Moore, Huntington House, Taylor King, Paladin Industries, Inc., Catawba Valley Community College, Carpenter, and Hickory Springs.
The current sewing and upholstery classes will graduate on June 27, 2023. According to their literature, “the CVCC Alexander Furniture Academy is an industry driven training program designed by local furniture manufacturers to prepare individuals for highly paid sewing operator and upholstery craftsmen positions that are in high demand by some of the region’s largest employers.”
Brian Craig, the Academy’s director, said, “The College is looking forward to serving our community through specialized training to support the upcoming workforce within the manufacturing sector.” Potential salaries for students who complete the classes range from $40,000-$75,000.
The Alexander Furniture Academy is an example of industries pouring back into their community in order to provide the necessary skills to people who want to learn and work to strengthen the economy and to increase their own career possibilities. For more information on becoming a student at the Academy, call 828-632-8221 or visit cvcc.edu.