A group of 10 students went back to school this September, but they aren’t taking a traditional education path.
The students make up the first class of the newly launched Universal Forest Products (UFP) Business School.
The two-year program includes tuition-free classroom learning and paid hands-on internships.
UFP Business School students spend 10 hours in class each week and another 20-25 hours on the floor as part of the internship.
“We give them the equivalent of a business administration major,” UFP CEO Matthew Missad said.
Upon successful completion of the program, students will receive employment at UFP.
Missad said UFP launched the program as a way to recruit talent.
“We are always looking to find good people, and it gets harder and harder to do,” he said.
Missad said a lot of qualified people don’t have the educational background necessary to work at UFP but that shouldn’t be a barrier.
“Over the last few years, kids coming out of college tend to have a lot of debt and don’t have the depth of education in the business subjects we rely on to the level we need them to have,” he said.
“The idea was to give people out of high school or junior college or who maybe couldn’t afford to go to college, but would be really good students and employees, to provide them with an opportunity.”
Missad said students receive exposure to all the different disciplines at UFP during the two years.
“The areas we need the most candidates for are generally in production management and in sales and sales management,” he said. “There are more opportunities for them in those areas, but they will get exposed to all the other disciplines, so if there happens to be an opening there, they will be well suited to apply for that.”
Missad said the company consulted outside educators, as well as internal staff, to create the program’s curriculum.
“We have an extensive in-house training program, so we were able to utilize a number of those resources, as well,” he said. “Ultimately, we left it in the instructors’ hands . . . and they’ve done a terrific job of building up the curriculum for the courses they teach.”
Missad said the program will welcome new students each fall for the time being and is targeted at approximately 10 students to ensure quality internship experiences.
“If it’s as successful as we hope it will be, we’d like to share the concept with other companies in the area, and we’d like to see this expand as much as we can,” he said.
Missad said he thinks the UFP Business School is important because of how expensive four-year degrees have become.
“There are a lot of students who can’t afford the traditional four-year college, or they don’t see the cost benefit in that education,” he said. “If we can help more people get educated without having to go into debt to do it, whether they end up working for us or someone else in the area, then it’s a good thing for the community.”
He added, “We hope they get done with two years and have money in their pocket instead of owing a lender a bunch of money for their college degree.”