Becoming a Master Craftsman for ISC Barrels
“We take an inconsistent raw material and make a consistent finished product, and that takes a lot of craftsmanship.”
At our Kentucky and Missouri cooperages, most production employees specialize in one aspect of the barrel making process such as jointing, raising, finishing, etc. Specializing allows employees to hone their craft and consistently produce quality results. After an employee gains proficiency in their position, they can also benefit from learning the entire barrel production process.
Because of this, in 2017 a Master Craftsman program was developed and launched at Kentucky Cooperage. The goal of the program is to give participants hands-on experience with the barrel building process from start to finish. Since its establishment, 13 employees have completed the intensive training required to be certified as a Master Craftsman, with several more currently in training. After initial success in Kentucky, the program was also implemented at Missouri Cooperage.
Every quarter, one employee is chosen at each cooperage to participate in the program. Supervisors nominate candidates for the program based on work ethic, reliability, and if the employee has shown interest in learning about the company. A maximum of two participants complete the program at a time so the cooperage can devote all the necessary resources to maximize the training experience.
The six-week long program begins with a week in the training center, where participants are given an in-depth facility tour, review safety, and learn quality standards for all positions within the cooperage. Week two is spent in the yards with forklifts and kilns, where staves are unloaded from trucks and dried. During the remaining four weeks participants spend time learning, and then working, each position in the heading, stave, barrel assembly, and barrel finish departments. By the end of the training program, employees will have interacted with around 125 people in their respective cooperages.
Dailyn Turner, cooper and first inspector in Bourbon Finish at Missouri Cooperage, is in training now. Turner said, “I love working with barrels, and I thought the program would be perfect for me. I hope to learn as much as I can and understand the processes it takes to make that perfect barrel.”
A few non-production employees have also completed the program. For example, Lisa Spalding, office manager at Kentucky Cooperage, found the experience eye-opening. “My biggest take away was the pride I saw in the workers’ eyes for the job they do, day in and day out, to provide for their families, and the respect I achieved by working hard with them to learn their jobs,” said Spalding.
Ella Boswell, fifth generation of the Boswell Family recently received her certification. “Becoming a certified Master Craftsman this past summer was an experience I really enjoyed,” said Boswell. “During my time at Missouri Cooperage, I met and worked with great, skilled people, who were patient with me. Between driving a 36,000-pound forklift in the yards my first week to coopering in barrel finish my last, I learned a lot.”
The program is an investment in our employees, which takes them out of their day-to-day jobs at the cooperage while they go through the program. It is a time for employees to discover their skill sets and based on their performance in the program, it could be an opportunity for advancement within the company in the future.
Missouri Cooperage Plant Manager, Barry Shewmaker, finds great value in the program, “Employees grow in the Master Craftsman program, gaining experience in each position and interacting with our best and brightest employees that do those jobs every day,” said Shewmaker.