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The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades

Education with a purpose; where no one is left behind

In the modern world, we value college degrees over trade-school know-how; and our educational system—and our country—pays the price. The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades is a good example of effective education, education that actually works, where, truly, no child is left behind; and where success—both for educators and students—is easy to track: at Williamson, nearly every graduate who wants a job gets a job, and that is a great measure of success.

• • •

I did okay with math, up until high school geometry. Then Trigonometry and Algebra hit me. I think that’s where I bounced off the learning train and math went on without me. I just didn’t understand the concepts, couldn’t grasp the meaning of negative numbers, square roots, formulas with two variables, tangents, cosines.

Looking back more than thirty years, it’s easy now to identify the problem. Back then, I thought it was me—I blamed myself for being dumb, ‘math challenged.’ But my career has proved that judgment wasn’t true. I’ve been a carpenter for more than thirty years, and I’ve learned to use trigonometry to solve countless problems on jobsites, from laying out foundations to framing roofs; from installing wainscoting on stairs to measuring crown molding. I divide, multiply, add, and subtract complicated fractions every day. I love math on the jobsite. Obviously, I’m not stupid. The problem wasn’t me. The problem was ‘chalkboard teaching.’

Today, our educational system is failing for a variety of reasons (reduced budgets, teacher layoffs, and deferred building maintenance are just a few reasons—don’t get me started), but one of the reasons our school system fails is because we don’t reach students who learn through physical experience—through hands-on physical contact with a problem—rather than abstract equations on a chalkboard.

The Williamson Free School campus. (Note: Click any image to enlarge. Hit your browser’s “back” button to return to this article.)

Learning by doing, or rather, learning by failing—where you actually watch your mistake take shape, where you hold it in your hand and study its evolution, where other students see it, too, and also learn from the vicarious experience—has distinct advantages, especially for students who learn through images and hands-on experience.

As Matthew Crawford writes in his recent book Shop Class as Soulcraft, “…the experience of failure seems to have been edited out of the educational process…. A student can avoid hard sciences and foreign languages and get a degree without ever having the unambiguous experience of being wrong.” (p. 204)

Crawford concludes: “There may be something to be said, then, for having gifted students learn a trade, if only in the summers, so that their egos will be repeatedly crushed before they go on to run the country.”

The School

Enrollment at Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades is limited to financially disadvantaged young men. Each student must choose a three-year program and specialize in a trade: Masonry, Power Plant, Painting, Carpentry, etc. But classes don’t concentrate solely on occupational training. Students study general education courses as well as gaining practical experience through hands-on training.

In addition to intensive shop classes like welding, boiler control, drafting, carpentry, painting, and masonry, students take required courses in resume-writing, Spanish, chemistry, math, and business management. Williamson offers a well-rounded program that supports well-rounded citizens; ironically, that is precisely the goal the school began with in 1888, and is still the school’s objective today.

Isaiah Vansant Williamson started the school with a two-million-dollar endowment and clear directions based on the Quaker ideals of hard work, honesty, religious faith, and modest lifestyle. Williamson endowed the school with more than just money, he established the school’s mission: “In this country every able-bodied, healthy young man who has learned a good mechanical trade, and is truthful, honest, frugal, temperate, and industrious, is certain to succeed in life and to become a useful and respected member of society.”

Imagine if our entire educational system was based on the same ambition.

19th century ideals in the 21st century

Today, the school is led by President Guy S. Gardner, who fittingly blends the founder’s late 19th century altruism with our modern culture: Gardner is a Vietnam vet and fighter pilot; from 1980-1991 he served as a NASA astronaut and piloted two space shuttle missions. Yet his down-to-earth approach and determination provides what Gardner describes as “an atmosphere of mutual respect at Williamson,” and solidly bridges the past to the future.

Frank Furness designed the school toward the end of the 19th century. Little-known now, Furness was considered a cutting-edge figure in the Philadelphia area–Louis Sullivan worked and studied under Furness, and Sullivan went on to influence Frank Lloyd Wright.

Furness believed in transcendentalism and abolition—spiritual values linked to the first half of the century; he also believed in capitalism and industry—the strength of Victorian America expressed during the second half of the century (the close of the Civil War ushered in the Transcontinental Railroad). Furness expressed his personal confidence—and his confidence as an American—through Romanesque architecture, a popular institutional style of the period.

In fact, Williamson Free School embodies a revival of 19th century values, where learning and discipline were irrevocably connected: the school provides a Judeo-Christian environment—Chapel services are mandatory; students wear coats and ties to meals and classes (except shop classes); guidelines are strictly enforced for academic performance; participation in sports and other activities is dependent upon academic standing.

Shop Classes

The goal of the program is to graduate men who are not only prepared to enter the workforce, but to contribute to their communities.

During a recent visit to the campus, I watched freshman students learning how to sharpen and use hand tools (freshman carpenters aren’t allowed to use power tools during their first semester); I watched one senior carpentry crew install final trim to complete a recent remodel on one building, and another senior crew lay out the foundation for a new building. I watched the horticulture students weeding, planting, and mowing the grounds; paint students were refinishing woodwork. In fact, all general maintenance on the 220acre campus, and most new construction (with the exception of electrical and HVAC work), is performed by students.

The Trades in America

Americans may be able to get computers, appliances, and steel from China; we may be able to buy our cars from Japan and outsource our data entry to India; but we still need to have our homes built, remodeled, and maintained right here in America—by Americans. And yet, in this country, we have few educational programs in the construction trades, and no continuing educational programs that focus specifically on the trades; no ‘hands-on’ programs that cover real-world construction issues: How to properly layout a foundation; how to lay block walls square and level; how to frame a house plumb and straight; how to install a window so it won’t leak; how to design and build simple and complicated stairs.

After three years, Williamson students graduate with a firm academic foundation, knowledge of a trade, and an appreciation for discipline and hard work. As Norm Yeager, a Williamson graduate of 1969, says:

“I was one of the original latch-key kids: my mother raised me but was never there—she worked full time. I bounced from school to school with little discipline. Williamson was tough, really tough for me. I wanted to quit. They took 80 students and 7 quit the first week. My class graduated with 53. I quit, too, right after my freshman year. I went out and got a job in a factory. I worked right under the time clock and couldn’t believe how slow fifteen minutes could go by—it seemed like two hours. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life looking at a clock, so I quit that job and went back to Williamson. I was never able to serve in the military, but I imagine attending Williamson was as close as it gets to being drafted.”

With a reputation for producing solid employees, Williamson men are quickly plucked up for jobs in the Philadelphia area and throughout the country. Williamson graduates tend to move up the ladder fast, becoming project managers, jobsite superintendents, and self-employed contractors. Tom Wisneski, Vice-President of Education, explains the reason why the Williamson program succeeds: “While fewer than ten percent of our students pursue four-year degrees immediately upon graduation, considerably more go on for further education within their first five years out of school, primarily because Williamson men learn first-hand to appreciate the vital role that education serves in career success.”

Norm Yeager confirms the important role education has played in his life and career: “They took a guy like me—not the brightest bulb in the chandelier—and taught me a trade; they gave me pride in the trade, too. Sure, graduating from Williamson by itself gave me a sense of accomplishment, but when I graduated, I learned quickly how valuable the education had been. I discovered there weren’t a lot of people on real-world jobsites willing to share what they knew. The general attitude was ‘I learned it the hard way. You’ll have to, too!’ But instructors at Williamson weren’t like that—they cared about us, they wanted us to succeed. And we did. I went to my first job already knowing a lot about construction. It wasn’t long before I became a project manager and superintendent—I’ve taught college-level construction training classes, too. And I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Carl Hagstrom, a Williamson graduate from 1974, shares the same opinion: “Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades produces solid mechanics, which is a word not used often today, unless you’re talking about auto mechanics. But there was a time when people referred to a competent tradesman as a good mechanic.”

While students graduate with a firm foundation in a trade, Williamson is not a Trade School. If it were, students would spend most of their time in shop classes, but they don’t. A glance at their daily schedule reveals that each student spends as much time in academic classes as they do in shop classes. The school’s mission is to “prepare deserving young men to be useful and respected members of society,” and they follow through on that mission.

Carl Hagstrom boils the school’s mission down to “creating men of character.” He adds: “You can read it in their handbook. They actually believe and act on their published commitments. One of them is that our work should manifest a spirit of unity and harmony, and that everyone should be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. All of the instructors at Williamson believe that. We were taught to work as a team, to respect the instructors, to respect each other, and to respect ourselves, too. Which makes it so much more than a Trade School. Where in this country can you get an education like that?”

Hagstrom started at Williamson when he was seventeen, before even graduating from high school. “My mom died when I was young and my father only knew how to push the wrong buttons. I started working in a service station when I was twelve, and wasn’t home much after that—I stayed with friends. Williamson was tough on me but I stuck it out because I wanted to learn. And the stuff I learned was well suited for me—and it was free!—it was a primer on engineering: how to size beams and girders and lintels; and everything about masonry. I even went back there after I graduated to take carpentry classes. But what I really learned from Williamson was how to learn. And that’s made a big difference in my life.”

If only other schools in America had the same impact.


33 Responses to “The Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades”

  1. Tom

    Good story on good school! I’m an alum from Seneca Vocational High School in Buffalo, NY. Seneca V.H.S. offered trade study in Electrical, Machine and limited Woodworking. Although I went on to receive two Bachelors and one Masters from a very prestigious university and had a very successful career in the software industry, I got off the “corporate treadmill” and now own a small remodeling company employing the skills I first learned back in High School. I don’t make the money that was there for the taking in the hi-tech industry, but I so much more love my job and my life. Further, my wife (and neighbors) appreciate what I can fix around the house.

    It was very sad news a couple years back when the City of Buffalo chose to close Seneca and convert it to more of a college prep school. If anything, our country’s educational system needs to provide more opportunities for our next generations to learn valuable trades. Even if students end up in careers that have nothing to do w/ the trades, the skills learned are most useful in everyday life at home and elsewhere.

    • Gary Katz

      I don’t know the numbers but there are quite a few minority students attending Williamson. I concentrated on the carpentry and masonry shop classes, so the photos and videos are not a comprehensive view of the school, it’s programs, or the students.

  2. David Pugh

    I worked most of my career in large woodworking shops. On the shop floor a great deal of the time. Many times my shopmates would say, ” I can’t believe you have a Master’s Degree.” Williamson would have helped me more in that world than the University of Washington with all their expertise.

  3. mark bisig

    Great story about folks wanting to be in the trades. I liked the early morning risers, the discipline of how they dress for meals, the chapel experience, how they learn things that are both hands on as well as brain work.

    I cannot tell you how many guys I would have work with me that could not get to the job on time no matter when you were supposed to start the job. That alone is a big plus on any jobsite and these guys are learning that. Also good to hear that the program is not a 6 week course and you are then pronounced a carpenter.

  4. Matt Follett

    What a breath of fresh air. The fact that a school like this instills such honor & values is truly a rare commodity and is to be commended. I was lucky; as a fledgeling carpenter, I was under the tutelage of not one but many different craftsmen throughout my early career. Even today — as a fairly young contractor — I still have mentors who I can go to when I have a question on virtually any subject.

    The idea of continuing education has always been impressed on me. Just last week I finished my course criteria for 3 national designations, yet I’ll be taking an energy auditing class in 2 weeks. I guess there was one thing that I never learned (and hope I never will): Carpentry in a ‘fall-back career.’ For an individual who applies them self to the business of craftsmanship, I truly believe a rewarding career is not only possible, but probable. I’ll let you know if it works out for me; the jury’s still out :)

  5. Mike Kennedy

    I’ve met a Williamson alumni. A man of good skill and great character.

  6. Keith Fleming

    As an alumni, I was greatly pleased to see and read your article. I too, feel the need to perpetuate the trades within our country. Thank you for your concentrated efforts to this cause.

  7. Jim Tudor

    How refreshing, both the article which exhibits a positive, can-do, value-based, promotional review of a good thing, but also the existence of the Williamson school and all that it stands for. The great thing about USA is that there is liberty and freedom to choose, so there will always be opportunities where a need exists. Thanks Gary for an excellent contribution, as always!

  8. Ed Latson

    Went to high school in New York State where the Regents diploma was the norm-you had to pass the course to take the Regents final; pass the final, and you got your credits and you moved up. Geometry in 10th grade—passed course/failed the Regents exam; summer school–passed the course/ failed the Regents exam. My Father sent to me his Father’s place for the balance of the summer–we designed, on graph paper, a dam; we made forms for the concrete dam….did the whole 9 yards-even threw in the old kitchen sink….and we had a working dam, complete with spillway…Went back for 11th grade—took geometry..again..–passed the course..failed the Regents at mid term…..finally passed the Regents at end of the year. What works? Persistence for one, and the realization that we all learn at different rates/speeds. I’ve been using geometry eveyday at work….since 1972. And it is the coolest form of math ever created. I could not SEE the relevance of geometry…until we designed and built the dam. After flopping around in college for a year–bored to tears– I finally switched to a one year vocational course in carpentry and cabinetmaking in 1970.
    Note: Take a peek at Mike “Dirty Jobs” Rowe’s website–it addresses many of these issues in your fine article:
    Many thanks- Ed Latson at 60…and loving this career MORE than ever before!!!!!!!!

  9. Mary Kathryn Vernon

    This looks like a great school, but where are the women students and teachers? We need to break down the barriers to women in the trades, not create them.

    • Gary Katz

      I don’t see how Williamson is creating any barriers to women in the trades. It’s a school following a 100 year old tradition. What we need to do is create new opportunities by developing new programs.

    • Joanne

      As a mother of 2 Williamson graduates (one a carpenter, and one a mason) I can tell you that the school would not have the same effect on the young men who attend Williamson if women were enrolled. By not having female students, these young men are better able to concentrate on their studies and obtain an education they might otherwise not be able to obtain in a “normal” co-ed atmosphere.

      • CT

        Hi Gary, great article…I do see value to introducing women to the trades, perhaps not with this particular school which has a particular history and legacy. Perhaps a sister program for women only would be a great addition, at a different location. Do you know of any coed or female only programs in the Philadelphia area for those of us who have come to the trades later in life, after already starting a career in the construction field?

  10. Lanya LaPunta

    I may have misinterpreted something. If so, that’s rather typical for me.

    Did I catch that Spanish is a requisite?

    Hopefully, it ain’t so.

    If so, why?

    Foreign language requirement, perhaps. However, spanish?

    • Gary Katz

      I’m not completely certain of the academic requirements at Williamson. Maybe one of the administrators will respond more accurately, but from what I can tell reading the catalog, “Spanish For The Trades” is a required course during the first semester of the senior year (one semester) for students in the Carpentry, Horticulture, Masonry, and Painting, programs, but not the Power Plant or Machine Shop programs. Makes sense to me. These students aren’t being taught fluency–this isn’t an immersion class or a “Junior Year Abroad” program. It’s how to communicate on the jobsite.

      • Chris goodman

        Gary, that is absolutely right. Spanish is a required class during the senior year of the classes you mentioned. It is not in depth spanish, but rather enough to understand or dictate basic commands or phrases necessary for the jobsite. As a recent graduate (0W9), and self employed remodeler, I can tell you it was extremely valuable for me to learn the language with the amount of Spanish speaking sub contractors in the industry. I am in no way fluent, but I can at least be understood.

  11. Mark Kalin

    Great article Gary, I always look forward to hearing from This is Carpentry. Good to see that places like Williamson still exist. Looks like a first rate education. Voc Ed opportunities are on the rise, but they still get a bad rap. Here’s a great article:
    While at Festool, I was in contact with a number of programs nationwide. As you mentioned, job placement is generally not a problem. The high cost of higher education falls short in a cost benefit analysis. Six figures later and no job prospects. It just doesn’t add up, even if you can figure quadratic equations.

    • Gary Katz

      Thanks Mark and good to hear from you! I think of you every time I use my HL 850 planer with the fence you customized–which has been at every show this year during the door hang. I hope you’re doing well! It’s interesting how the cost of higher education is finally becoming a factor in the deciding whether to pursue it. I think it’s ironic and says a lot about where we’ve come from as a country / planet and where we are now economically when you realize that no one ever considered the cost/benefit (I hate the phrase!) or the Return On Investment of higher education until now. Boy was that a convoluted sentence.

  12. Dan Sweborg

    Great article!

    Bill: No minority students are shown in the pictures- And your point is? Minority by definition means “the smaller number or part” (lower #’s in population, lower #’s in student body, lower #’s in any candid pictures). Not a conspiracy. But then, like Gary said, he didn’t show any pictures of the other shop classes.

    Mary Kathryn: Where is this “created-barrier” you mention? Maybe we should stop creating barriers to men as librarians, because it seems men are under-represented in this occupation. Or, maybe some occupations, practices, and trades simply appeal to one gender or another for any number of reasons. I don’t think a “barrier” plays any role whatsoever in a woman choosing to learn a trade such as plumbing or a man choosing to become, say, a beautician.

    Lanya: Spanish as a required course in a building trades school, most certainly it’s a good idea. Having more and more Spanish speaking people in this Country, and particularly in the building trades, some/many of whom have limited English skills, enhancing the ability to communicate on the job site is a good thing. The onus to assimilate to one’s chosen culture and it’s language still applies, but lets be real.

    Gary: ROI for a typical college degree program runs the course from excellent (CPA, MD/DO, Engineeer, et al) to horrendous (any Bachelor-level “degree” such as Sociology, History, Poly-Sci, et al – PhD.-level notwithstanding).

    I have become indebted to a great degree (no pun intended) by first opting for the route that was drilled into me by teachers, ‘guidance’ counselors (LOL), & parents – go to college/get a good job/be successful. Even found myself in grad school for a Masters.

    What I found out however, is that even with an advanced degree, I wasn’t even earning the same as my blue collar peers (and they started earning years earlier while I was still studying for exams!).

    I ended up in the building trades as a 28 year old floor sweeper with a Master’s Degree! – and worked myself up the ladder from there (along with the non-college educated, Polish immigrants that worked alongside me).

    If ONLY I could have been routed into a school like Williamson!

  13. Wayne McWilliams

    I just wanted to take a minute to add a different perspective about Williamson School. One that comes from someone who is a graduate of the school. The proper education and skills in whatever trade you choose here is worth any young mans attention and application, but I will tell you that the trade skills as good as they are, are not the greatest asset that this institution has to offer. The
    values like time management, respect (not just for yourself but for others), courtesy, dedication, pride and true friendship are just a few of the values that you take away from Williamson. I graduated from Williamson in 1985 with my choice of employment from many places as did ALL of my fellow classmates. I have since been self employed with my brother who is also a graduate from Williamson for the last 25 yrs in the carpentry field and have developed quite a reputation in the community for not just quality work but work that is performed with the highest respect for the customer and their homes. Williamson men are easy to find when you know what to look for, they are first on the job, last to leave, they will be respectfully dressed, courteous and anxious to provide the best quality job possible and if that doesn’t work, look at their truck, their will probably be a license plate or sticker of some kind with the Williamson name and logo on it because we are pretty proud to be graduates of this institution.

  14. Benjamin Miner

    I was really turned on by this article initially, but I have to say, mandatory Chapel attendance is discrimination. If somebody wants the education in trade skills being offered at Williamson, they should not have to go through the motions of religious belief in order to get it. We as a society need to understand this. If we can realize that forcing gay people to pretend to be straight in order to serve in the military is wrong, we should also be able to understand that a lack of religious belief is not a sign of weak moral character. Atheism has nothing whatsoever to do with a person’s ability to perform honestly and admirably and to contribute something of value to their community.

    • Gary Katz

      As a graduate of a high school that also required chapel attendance (thankfully only twice a week!), I understand where you are coming from. But in retrospect, the experience never caused me any pain (though I was worried the first time I ate the body of Christ….it seemed to conflict with something about my Bar Mitzvah but I couldn’t figure out what!).

      I learned a lot about other religions from that experience, in fact The Rev at my high school also taught a class in comparative religion, which I took my senior year. What an experience. And every year he drove me to Phoenix for High Holiday services. More than a lesson in tolerance (something that seems in short supply these days), I learned to respect the things other people respected. I think that’s a pretty good lesson for young men today. And that’s what a good school should do: challenge students and teach them to think for themselves.

      And remember, no one is forcing these guys to attend this school. They make the choice. And in return, they are given a three year program for free. I can’t see any discrimination here.

  15. Ted

    Your article is great. I was fortunate in that I had an employer in the trades area that inadvertently pushed me into an engineering program that I had not originally planned to do. I did complete a 4 year engineering program in 4 years. But I continue to enjoy doing things with my hands, repairing and building all sorts of devices. I have a tremendous respect for people who have great skills and talents in the trades. I was fortunate in that I was able to hire and follow that careers of those people who found well paying very satisfying life time work/careers in trades.

    I share your concern that we embellish the four year programs to the detriment of the trade schools, in fact here in Wisconsin we have changed the name of our great technical programs to ”Colleges” and have slowly moved to more and more emphasis on prework for 4 year degrees, transferring of credits etc. And we hear this all the way up the ladder including our president, we all need to continue to support the development of trade skills of many of our great young people.

  16. Bill Hillman

    Nice article. I’ve hired a few guys out of Williamson and everything you say about them is spot-on.
    I was just reading yesterday that 44% of those who graduated college 2010 have not found jobs and have an average of $40,000 in collage loans. The predictions for this year’s class are even worse. But in my un-scientific poll, the kids from Williamson do not seem to be having a problem finding good jobs.
    One of the many things I like about the school is the respect the program has for the trades and the students. I’ve been to several of the vocational school in the area run by the public schools system, and honestly they verge on being an insult to all of us that take pride in our trade. These schools are dumping grounds for the systems to cast off “troubled kids”.
    The only conversation I hear concerning school curriculums is how they prepare students for college and life as accountants. No time for kids that might have other interests like Craftsmanship and artistic skills.

    Bill Hillman

  17. Anthony

    Can we get one of these in Florida? Talking about a state where carpentry classes are non existent past high school

  18. Kent Brobeck

    Gary, wow what a great article! Lord knows we need so much more of this in our society today and into the future. My Father was an educator, so was my Mom. The school district that my Dad worked for had a trade program that was just awesome back in the 1940’s into the 1960’s. So many great carpenters came from that program. Now we have a county run program where all the HS send kids and it is really just a place to get out of regular academic work. Why, why, why can’t educators of today see this is broken? Gary, keep up the great work!

  19. Dreamcatcher

    I realize I am replying a bit late to this article but after getting fired up from the Keith Mathewson road article I thought I would reread and reply here to get some opinion out.

    It has long been my feeling that the perception of mechanics (carpentry among others) has been in decline for far too long; centuries that is. While I am uneducated as to when and why trades such as carpentry split away from being a “profession” and has slowly declined to be a “fall back career” it is that derogation that fuels my anger of the current paradigm. Trades people are all too often discounted as being academically inept. Many tradesmen even use that as an excuse of how they ended up in the trades…. shame on them, if you ask me.

    I strongly advocate higher education for anyone desiring to partake the mechanical career path. While it difficult to find pertinent education among universities (certainly this is a result of a poorly designed education system) it doesn’t need to be considered impossible. While it still stands shy of the mainstream, I am delighted to see the efforts taken by the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades to at least begin to re-establish mechanics as a true professional field of study.

    It is my implication in writing opinion that most problems in the carpentry field stem from the lack of education and the discipline obtained through the educative process. I enjoyed seeing the Williamson students in their neat clothing; likewise I enjoy antique photographs of tradesmen in their dapper dress. A carpenter cannot expect to be taken seriously if he shows up for work in a tank top and cut off jeans (Personally I wear a collared shirt and khakis everyday). Also, while classroom learning may seem a bore to some, it is often that method of group learning which can bring pre-professionals together; commonly learning at the same time, place, and pace as others. Trades people these days are usually acting alone and take pride in their roguish ability. But that often just pits them against each other while they fight for clients. The end result being that trade occupations are publicly disrespected and financially under compensated.

    From my perspective, it usually involves a pairing of individuals which allows a trade business to excel these days; a seasoned carpenter who enters an LLC with a degreed accountant for example. But were trade occupations taken more seriously over the past century or so, this wouldn’t be as necessary a requirement of success. I can imagine a university education (possibly on the path towards a real Master of Carpentry degree) that would include not only mechanics but mathematics, engineering, physics, chemistry, accounting, english, history, and philosophy. Then the public could be a bit more comfortable paying top dollar (AKA professional services rate) for a tradesman who doesn’t just pound nails all day but a respectable trade professional that may into account the building science, structural integrity, and moral implications of what they are building and how.

    Here’s my deal; I’m not pro nor anti union. I don’t seek to add regulation nor push out regulation in the construction industry. I’m not afraid of losing work to immigrants nor am I just complaining that I work too hard for my pay. I’m just a carpenter who loves being “hands on” but sometimes get tired of being stereotyped as uneducated. In fact, I have two college degrees (in architecture) and several trade certifications. I hold high quality standards and even higher moral standards. I truly enjoy what I do for a living and how I do it but still I can’t help get just a bit worried that one of my children may pick up a hammer and try to follow my footsteps. I guess in that regard even I am a little disrespectful of the trade profession. Certainly there is cause for change!


  20. Jim


    I personally know many graduates from Williamson. They are all hard working, knowledgeable, respectful gentlemen. They hearken back to a time when men wore ties to the work place and job site. They are the atypical construction worker. Not uneducated, unskilled, unmotivated individuals, but the exact opposite. They are continuing to set the standard for how the American worker should handle himself on the jobsite…. With technical expertise, an open mind, and a faith based heart.
    Hopefully Williamson will be around for another 100 years +.
    Go Mechanics!

  21. Danny Foster

    I enjoyed the article, I went to a trade school for three years during high school. I was surpised to hear in the “carp” shop video, that the juniors were just learning to run the sill plates and start learning to frame the floor system..

  22. John

    Great article. Vocational education dear and near to my heart. Graduated from machinist trade at Hower High, Akron, OH. , not there anymore. The trades got shuffled around to all local high schools. Great memories of teachers who knew the trade and cared enough to teach us hard heads. I thank them always for instilling in me a great sense of “I can do that”. We need more trade schools in every community. College is not for everyone. A trade is a lifetime of learning and enjoyment. Not only did I earn $20k first full year from graduation in 1971 but was able to pay my own way in college later. Go for the trades USA. We need to see our young have the same chances we had. I fell in love with wood working as a hobby. As machinist woking with metal why not wood, just not as close tolerance (.001″) or less at times. Wood is very gratifying and it too became a skill & income later. Can we inspire more folks with “I can do that” trade education! Thank you Gary Katz for your part in the education levels of your articles and co-writers.

    • Gary Katz

      Thank YOU for a great comment. $20k in 1971! Holy Smokes! I was making less than 5 in 1977 and on a whole house! I was never a good businessman. I wish I’d gone to a trade school!

  23. Jim

    My son is enrolled in his freshman year. Strong work ethic, discipline, punctuality, respect, honesty. These are some of the traits that I see when I walk around campus. Which I might ad is one of the most beautiful campus I have ever seen. Several original buildings are designs of Frank Furness. Go Mechanics!


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