When discussions turn to “high demand” jobs in Alabama, people rarely mention upholsterers. ISTC upholstery instructor, Sandy Caylor, has a different view. As the instructor leading the only upholstery program in the Alabama Community College System, Caylor regularly responds to calls from employers asking about graduates’ availability for work.
When she isn’t in the classroom or talking about jobs, Caylor works with customers to schedule “live work” upholstery projects to be completed by students in the program lab. “We have a two-year waiting list right now,” says Caylor, “and that’s just for furniture, the wait for automotive or marine work is even longer.”
Caylor says the demand for skilled workers and the lengthy waiting list translate into good news for program graduates. “Whether they want to work in an established shop or set up their own business, there are a lot of opportunities for someone with this skill set,” she explains.
Entrepreneurship is a frequent theme in classroom discussions, so much so that Caylor has made it a part of her curriculum. Topics include customer service, working with vendors, and recordkeeping.
Speaking from personal experience, she explains to her students that “for minimal start up costs you can build a profitable business and earn a good living.”
She is also quick to share the success stories of past graduates. One of those graduates, Sean Barnett, describes his 2016 road to entrepreneurship in these words, “I got my business license, made myself some business cards, and went out to look for customers.” Today, he has a thriving business near Mobile, and frequently shares photos of his work with Caylor via social media.
While the gulf coast offers job and business opportunities for many of Caylor’s graduates, others are drawn to residential upholstery. “Antiques are seeing a real resurgence,” she explains. “There is a trend away from ‘disposable’ furniture. Young people are shopping in thrift stores or raiding their grandparents attics for well-made pieces and reworking them using modern fabrics and patterns.”
Projects completed by ISTC upholstery students can be found in the Alabama House and Senate chambers, in many state office buildings, and in businesses and homes across Alabama.