W&H Takes a Proactive Stand to Close the Skills Gap

Written by R. Christianson

Pictured:  Dan Bond, WMMA; Jamie Scott, Air Handling Systems; Chris Hacker, James L. Taylor Mfg; Representative Ann Kuster(D-NH), Steve Carter, Williams & Hussey Machine Co., Inc.; John Schultz, Super Thin Saws


When the highly acclaimed Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab (MiLL) in Colorado Springs, CO, was still in the planning stage, Williams & Hussey (W&H) was among the first to step forward and donate a machine. 

W&H President Steve Carter explains why he decided to give the new national woodworking training center a molder and set of knives. “I want to support programs that I feel will ensure the future of our industry. We as manufacturers of woodworking equipment need to be proactive to invest in workforce development and close the skills gap.”

Carter views the ever-widening skills gap as the number one threat to the long-term health of U.S. manufacturing. “There are not enough qualified people coming into the trades to fill the jobs that are available not only in woodworking but in small manufacturing companies like Williams & Hussey. It’s a real problem that we need to address now because if we don’t, it’s only going to get worse.”

Carter’s call for action is corroborated by a Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute study which found that the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs is expected to reach 2 million by 2025. The two major factors elevating the skilled worker shortage are baby boomer retirements and economic expansion. Making the skills gap even more worrisome, the study noted the “negative image of the manufacturing industry among younger generations” and “a gradual decline of technical education programs in public high schools.”

The challenge to reverse the decline of the skilled worker base is so daunting that most industry professionals do little more than moan and groan. But not Carter. Realizing that there’s no silver bullet that will magically close the skills gap, he’s tackling the problem on multiple fronts. This includes leveraging his position as president of the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America (WMMA) to advance career and technical education opportunities.

“I want to use what resources I have as a manufacturer and exert what influence I have as president of the WMMA to make a positive impact on strengthening our manufacturing jobs base,” Carter says. “We need to change the mindsets of guidance counselors, parents and students that there are rewarding careers in manufacturing.”

Carter’s proactive involvement to fight the good fight for developing and growing a skilled manufacturing workforce includes:

  • Representing the WMMA Wood that includes about a dozen industry associations joining together to find solutions to closing the skills gap.
  • Serving on the WMMA’s Public Policy Committee, which has made securing more funding for career and technical education institutions its number one priority. Carter and his fellow committee members participate in an annual WMMA Fly-in to Washington to meet with their senators and representatives to lobby their support for CTE and other important industry issues.
  • Keeping his eyes peeled and ears to the ground to identify training and education resources for manufacturers to meet hiring and staffing demands.

“I think if there’s one thing that everyone - be they Democrat or Republican - can agree it’s that we need Washington’s help to fix this very serious problem,” Carter says. “Supporting career and technical education is not only good for U.S. manufacturing but is vital to the strength of the American economy.”

Dean Mattson, founder and president of the MiLL, is very appreciative of Carter’s commitment to the CTE cause. “Steve is a very passionate businessman and our industry could use a lot more like him. “He also was one of the first to donate a machine to the Peyton Woods Manufacturing Program,” a high school woodworking program that has grown from 30 to 180 students since 2015 when Mattson came on board as lead instructor. “We have to make woodworking sexy to attract more talent. The Williams & Hussey molder is one of the smallest machines that we have, but when it’s time for a student to put the final details on his creation, the crown molding the machine produces brings the beauty out in the piece. It really gives students an opportunity to show off their craftsmanship.”

Carter looks at the phenomenal growth of the Peyton Woods program and the launch of the MiLL as two very tangible CTE success stories that he’s proud to be part of. He’s proactively on the look-out for other worthy CTE and industry training programs to support.

“I want to give back to the industry that has been good to me,” Carter says. “To complain and do nothing is not a solution. Get involved. Volunteer. Donate. Do something to Invest in tomorrow’s workforce and close the skills gap. To me it’s really a no-brainer.”

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