Troy Johnson began his career building off-road race vehicle chassis. High horsepower and steel is big business, and as business improved he found it difficult to find qualified metal fabricators to keep up with the demand. The lack of a skilled workforce is rampant among many industries and Johnson learned early on that no one was addressing the problem. So he took it upon himself to educate a few people.
"At first, I thought I could put together a small class," says Johnson. "I had many people hear about it and came in telling me that they had no training, but they really wanted to learn. We put together a class thinking I was going to cherry-pick the best guys out of it, then go back to making 'real money' building race cars. The whole thing exploded and turned into the Fab School."
Officially founded in 2005, Johnson slowly expanded the school, and the programs available, into one of the leading fabrication schools in the state. Currently, The Fab School occupies a 33,000 square foot facility in Rancho Cucamonga, California and has an expanding curriculum that allows students to enter into a wide range of industries from aerospace to off-road racing. While their success rate is high, about 90 percent, the problem now is that it's difficult for the school to find qualified fabricators, but the school is still thriving.
The Fab School's success reflects the need for skilled labor, and it's providing greater opportunities for graduates in fields where technology can't compete with craftsmanship and know-how. "The skills students learn here will allow them to pursue their passions in a variety of disciplines from building million-dollar off-road racing vehicles to working at NASA, or being a custom motorcycle chassis builder," says Johnson. "We simply want to provide them with the tools they need to succeed, and we're doing that in a passionate and fun way."
The Fab School is a private, post-secondary, vocational school in which students learn the various fundamentals in metal fabrication including, sheet metal, chassis design, MIG and TIG welding, machine shop, and much more. In addition, classrooms provide students with "book-smarts" to learn various processes, before attempting to complete class projects by hand.
For new students, the principles of metalworking and design, as well as life skills, math, safety, and theory, all begin in the classroom. Hands-on workshops typically happen in the afternoon, where students are given instructions in small groups so that each can get a full understanding of fundamentals and get experience learning and operating equipment and tools.
Instructors have a minimum of 10-years of experience. Since it's becoming more difficult to find instructors to handle the growing classrooms, the school has adapted to accommodate the needs of its staff and students. Various class times are offered that allows students and instructors to find the time between work and family schedules, allowing students and teachers to meet at their own pace. According to Johnson, students who enroll full-time can finish in as little as seven months.
The facility houses various workstations that are broken up into the disciplines that are taught within the program. "Once the students learn one form of fabrication, they're given projects to create," says Johnson. "They get to take home their projects, including a workbench that they can take home, to hopefully keep challenging themselves to improve their welding capabilities. Once they get into advanced courses, they can be a part of the CNC program." One of the latest pieces of machinery that the school recently received, is an Amada laser cutter, which will be integrated into an advanced program in the near future.
With an average placement rate of about 96 percent, the school is definitely filling a void where skilled craftsmen are in high demand. "In our advanced course, we have a 100 percent placement rate," said Johnson. "My passion is to help them find a job that they are passionate about, and we have many industries coming to us waiting for qualified students."
Dan Sanchez is editor of CompanyWeek California. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.