BCIT Students Showing Us What’s Next

Grace Tatigian

Instagram is a great place to see some beautiful pieces of design. Some fantastic work stood out recently on @BCITJoinery’s feed, highlighting some stunning pieces from their fourth-year students who are quickly approaching their graduation. So I got on the phone with Bill Nash, the course instructor, to learn more about the students and their projects. To say that Nash was enthusiastic and happy with the results is an understatement.

“We’re really proud of our students,” said Nash, a phrase he kept repeating throughout the interview. “Because of social distancing in the shop, they only had nine six-hour days to build these cabinets entirely from scratch. It’s amazing what they made.”

Nash has been teaching at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) for the last five years but has been in the industry for over 18. How he ended up in the position is an interesting story.

“One of my previous instructors at BCIT had been bugging me for years about applying to be an instructor,” he explained. “Long after I graduated, we stayed friends, and he was a great mentor to me. Eventually, I took his advice and applied for the job right around the time that he retired, so now I’m actually in his old teaching position.”

BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment’s Joinery program teaches core skills for the trade, organized logically and taught by qualified instructors who have worked in the industry. The program is designed so that comprehensive instructions are followed by a series of assignments and practical projects to hone their skills.

Each level of apprenticeship training builds on the skills and knowledge they acquired in their previous training. One of the many results of the program is the gorgeous cabinetry pieces that the program featured on their Instagram. 

“Because of COVID, we had to reorganize how we do things, make a blended model for teaching so that we could accommodate for fewer people in the shop. We covered a lot of theory online, and luckily they could do the design remotely,” explained Nash. “In previous years, the project was bigger, and they had six weeks to do it, so it’s impressive to see how well they did in such a short time.”

It really is incredible what these students achieved in less than two weeks of shop time. But they were set up for success. The course is designed to build on skills that they’ve learned throughout their apprenticeship and schooling. They started with a list of criteria from Nash, giving them a framework for their project, but leaving lots of room for creativity.

“It really was an engineering and design challenge,” said Nash.

Next, they built out their ideas on paper, sketching them up. Then they had some shop time to try out some of their ideas. Then it was back to their computers to design their pieces in AutoCAD. 

“They had to write the programs for the curved legs and shelves,” explained Nash. “Fourth year is when we really get into CNCing. Cabinetmaking has a lot of moving parts to it. I always say that joinery is a perfect marriage of intellect and skill with a little artistic flair.”

Once the pieces were cut, they were back in the shop to assemble, glue, stitch, hot press, veneer, stain, and finish. Everything was made from scratch, down to the veneer stitching and the premium one edges. The results were outstanding, getting dozens of likes and comments on their Instagram. One comment, in particular, stood out to me; a millwork shop based in Surrey asked if BCIT’s soon-to-be graduates were looking for work.

“Any of our students who want work can find it easily,” said Nash without hesitation. “Even our first-year foundational students find work while still in school. Construction is booming on the lower mainland right now, and everyone is hiring.”

This makes it a great time to be a student in the field. I was curious about what kinds of jobs his students ended up in.

“We have graduates doing all kinds of different work. A lot of them go into project management, and we see a bunch who start their own businesses. Everyone is desperate for installers right now, so I’ve had a few students start installation companies and do really well,” said Nash. “Others become foremen or lead once they have their ticket, some become programmers or drawers – man, wouldn’t it be awesome if every shop drawer was a ticketed cabinetmaker?”

Some students even go on to be teachers themselves, passing on their technical knowledge to high school students in tech ed classes.

“People who do this work love it,” said Nash, confirming something I’ve long thought. “It’s a lot of hard work; it’s very intellectual. We laugh, cry, sweat – we put everything into our work.”

From the pictures of his students’ work, it’s clear that Nash has done an excellent job of passing on his skills and expertise and his passion, dedication, and enthusiasm for the trade.

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