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Committed to Craft

The Landscape Forms Welding Academy

Beginning with just three welding machines in 2011, the Landscape Forms Welding Academy has quickly become one of the top welding programs in the nation, producing some of the most skilled and knowledgeable welders worldwide. The Welding Academy was initially conceived out of necessity—Landscape Forms simply could not find enough talented welders whose work met the company’s relentless dedication to aesthetic beauty, quality and precision of manufacturing. “Expert craftsmanship is a founding principle of this company,” asserts John Nieboer, Director of the Welding Academy, “so creating our own program was a natural outgrowth of that commitment.”

After receiving his AAS Degree in Welding Technology at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Nieboer began his 20-year career at Landscape Forms as production welder, rising through the ranks as a successful Cell Leader, and eventually receiving the Certified Welding Inspector and Certified Welding Educator credentials needed to build the Landscape Forms Welding Academy. In addition to directing the Academy, Nieboer also currently serves as a member of the Welding Advisory Committee for welding schools across west Michigan, helping guide graduates and recruit new talent for Landscape Forms.

Today, Landscape Forms employs over 100 academy-graduate welders who craft their range of premier-quality site furnishings, accessories and lighting solutions. Additionally, Landscape Forms’ Studio 431 is home to an elite team of design-focused fabricators who manufacture custom pieces for some of most high-profile, high-visibility landscape environments in the world. The academy-trained welding team has become such an integral part of Landscape Form’s design and manufacturing process that the program is now proudly housed in a dedicated 1,600-square foot space with over a dozen welding machines and five welding tables—a far cry from the program’s humble beginnings.

At Landscape Forms, welds are not just a means to an end, but a design element of the final product as well. Where welds are visible the welding and design teams take pride in how aesthetically pleasing they are—refined, smooth, symmetrical; almost demanding to be touched. In some products like the Chipman Chair, however, the welding approach is so meticulous it is almost impossible to discern where the flush welds begin and end. In these cases, the grinding and finishing process is equally as important as the welding technique itself.

Landscape Forms largely recruits new welders for the academy from within the company, seeking out those who display strong technical and creative talent in other areas of manufacturing. However, the program’s success and quality of training also attracts many top technical students from local schools such as Allegan VO Tech, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Van Buren Tech Center looking to hone their craft.

In addition to growing and retaining talent, the Welding Academy serves as a focal point of the culture mantra at Landscape Forms. Bonded by dedication to their craft and pride in their work, welders at Landscape Forms work in cells organized by product type and carefully choreograph their work in stages throughout the manufacturing process. Welders’ talents are showcased each year at Landscape Forms’ annual Weld Competition—a “welding Olympics” of sorts—during which fabricators are challenged both technically and creatively. Some of the foremost events require participants to weld blind folded or weld in reverse using a mirror to mimic real-life situations where visibility is limited. Importantly, the Weld Competition isn’t limited only to Landscape Forms’ professional welders, but open to all employees with varying degrees of experience in the craft. Every year, more than two thirds of the company’s nearly 400 employees participate in the event, a testament to the respect and pride that welding inspires companywide.

“Unlike anywhere else I’ve ever worked, culture is critical here. It’s a magical thing that touches what we do, how we do it, and everything we produce,” says Gage Major, Welder, Chair Cell, a welder at Landscape Forms. “The Welding Academy is more than a school. It’s a unique experience that impacts how I show up every day as a welder, and as a person.”

No doubt, what some may have considered a dying art is alive and well at Landscape Forms. As the program continues to grow and develop, the Welding Academy is quickly becoming a significant icon for Landscape Forms’ core values. “The Welding Academy is a not only a symbol of Landscape Forms’ strong commitment to craft and design, but also our dedication to developing our people, offering opportunities for personal growth, and maintaining a culture of respect, understanding and creativity,” Nieboer says.