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Fabricating the American dream

How one school is shaping American manufacturing, one student at a time

Despite the recent explosive growth in Made in America manufacturing, the skills gap and a lack of workers in general are still putting employers in a difficult spot. Fortunately, it seems the tides may finally be turning. With the ever-growing realization that not everyone is destined for a four-year college, vocational education is gaining traction as a valued alternative.

The Fab School teaches a variety of fabricating processes, including MIG and TIG welding, and does so with a large collection of equipment from Miller Electric.

The American dream

For anyone that believes success and the American dream are worth working hard to attain, a career in the American manufacturing industry may be a good fit. After all, the American Dream isn’t achieved by chance; it’s achieved through sacrifice, risk taking and hard work.

It’s comforting to know, however, that that opportunities in the manufacturing sector are vast. In fact, a report released at last year’s Fabtech stated that there are approximately 90,000 welding jobs that will need to be filled throughout the United States by 2024.

But that’s just in welding. The overall need includes a variety of positions in metal fabrication and manufacturing that require skilled workers trained in machining, sheet metal working, production manufacturing, composites and digital design, among so many more. As these numbers continue to grow each year, the search for qualified employees becomes harder and harder for employers. Ultimately, this is what motivated Troy Johnson to establish The Fab School in 2005.

“The industry was dry when it came to finding qualified fabricators to come and work for me and even my past employers,” Johnson explains. “Everybody was looking, and there was just nobody to be found. So, I came up with the idea that I would train a few folks and then I would be able to cherry pick the best ones to hire and go back to doing what I love most, which is building race cars.”

Johnson ignited his passion for metal fabrication more than 34 years ago, starting with sweeping shop floors to eventually working directly for top racing teams, such as Team Kia, Curt LeDuc and Mike Leslie. He gained his experience getting hands-on fabrication skills building with these top teams.

Students that graduate from any of The Fab School’s three education tracks have the opportunity to pursue careers in a variety of industries, including aerospace, automotive and construction.

As the years passed, he eventually started his own company, Johnson Fab, and then as a few more years went by, he was faced with the same problem as every other industry leader: a lack of skilled fabricators to help him grow his company. He knew something had to be done.

Enter The Fab School

The Fab School is a nationally accredited technical training school that specializes in the fundamentals of metal fabrication and most recently digital design and composites technologies. The school has been educating students on the technical skills and theories of fabrication since 2005, providing hands-on training in a real-world working fabrication shop environment.

Throughout the years, The Fab School has constantly expanded and dedicated its curriculum to support the American manufacturing industry. Each and every instructor is committed to training the next generation and the generations to come. They understand that these skill sets will constantly be in high demand, providing a strong and stable future for their students.

Graduation from The Fab School takes about 728 hours, and the school ensures that every second of that training counts. From the moment students walk in the school’s front doors, instructors put a welder in their hands, rev up the equipment and get to work.

Classes are kept small. By allowing for a low student-to-instructor ratio of only 16 students per class, there are more opportunities for one-on-one training. This mantra flies in the face of many post-secondary and vocational schools that are primarily concerned about filling their classrooms to the max.

The Fab School trains its students on the most cutting-edge equipment available, including machines from Amada America, Faro Technologies and Baileigh Industrial Holdings.

Johnson also continues to search for the top industry professionals to join The Fab School team as instructors to ensure students are being trained by the best and brightest. Each instructor has more than 10 years of experience in the fabrication industry, bringing a unique, insider knowledge of the complexity and scope of work involved in the fabrication industry today.

School programs

The Fab School offers three different tracks for students to choose from. Each offers a wealth of information and wide range of options as far as eventual careers are concerned. Students graduate with a certificate of completion in the track they choose.

Fundamentals of Fabrication: The class objective is to provide students with occupational training required for employment in the field of metal fabrication and welding. The curriculum is accelerated while embracing a hands-on approach to learning. Students can complete the program in as little as seven months.

Digital Design and Manufacturing: The focus is on CAD software for 3-D part modeling, machining, and sheet metal cutting and forming. Students develop the full range of digital designing and manufacturing skills necessary for entry-level employment, using the most widely used software design technology available. Students can complete this program in as little as seven months.

Advanced Composites and Technologies: Students develop a full range of composite manufacturing skills, using the most up-to-date software on the market. Students also learn general shop safety along with machine-specific safety precautions for a variety of manufacturing operations. Students can graduate in as little as six weeks.

Students follow their designs from concept to finished product, including items such as motorcycle chassis or a full-size roll cage.

Although a lot of the training at The Fab School is based off of Johnson’s love of the automotive/off-road industry, the skills that are gained apply to a range of industries. These include auto racing and repair, off-roading, aerospace, construction and fabrication, heavy equipment, manufacturing, railcar and shipbuilding, transportation and agriculture.

Campus life

Located in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., in a 33,000-sq.-ft. facility, The Fab School campus has plenty of space to train students. Training equipment includes an Amada laser, 3-D laser scanner, press brake, Faro arm, 22 MIG welders and 40 TIG welders from Miller Electric, four Baileigh industrial manual mills, four lathes, Baileigh industrial hydraulic shears as well as two Baileigh industrial bandsaws. The school also features customized workbenches designed and manufactured by school instructors.

The school also optimizes the learning environment through its shop environments.

  • In the machine shop: Students gain basic, hands-on skills utilizing manual and CNC mills and lathes.
  • In the chassis shop: Students learn about bending, notching, tubing repair, and designing roll cages and chassis elements, utilizing old techniques as well as new-age design approaches, such as the type possible with BendTech software. Students are able to see their designs all the way through to a finished group project, such as a motorcycle chassis or a full-size roll cage, giving them first-hand knowledge and skills.
  • In the sheet metal room: Training begins with basic metal shaping skills, including the use of an English wheel and bead rolling equipment. Hands-on part construction and forming also happens in projects such as creating body panels, designing front and rear suspensions, aluminum shaping and more.

In all of the school’s workshops, students are fully equipped with a range of sophisticated forming equipment as well as hand tools, air tools and private work stations. And, of course, an endless supply of metal stock is available.

Troy Johnson, founder of The Fab School, demonstrates Faro equipment to a group of students. 

Getting started

The Fab School has a career services department that offers graduates job placement assistance. School reports show that it currently touts a 95 percent placement rating. But, of course, that means that students must first enroll.

To do so, they can schedule a tour with the school’s admissions team to get a first-hand look at the school. Prospective students can also meet with the school’s financial aid team to discuss the availability of loans and grants, including those available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IV Program.

Speaking of financial aid, The Fab School is dedicated to the nation’s military members and veterans and is GI Bill approved. The school accepts all programs offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the tuition assistance program for active duty and reservists. It is also nationally accredited by the Commission of the Council on Occupational Education.

The Fab School