Five watch schools recommended for direct industry support

Five watchmaker schools, out of 13 in North America, have been recommended for industry support by a committee of the American Watchmaker Association (AWA) dealing with watchmaker education. All 13, though, should receive more generic support, such as promotional materials and inclusion on a proposed website for watchmaker education, says the proposal.

The AWA is spearheading the Watchmaker Education Coalition (WEC), comprised of watch firms, jewelry retailers and associations, which is seeking ways to promote the education of watchmakers and watch technicians and increase the declining number.

Direct support, suggests the committee, for include help for instructor’s salaries; benches, tools, and testing equipment, “practice” watches for students, scholarships and instructor training.

The schools’ proposal is part of a set of recommendations by AWA’s advisory committee, which will be considered by WEC’s steering committee later this year, or after the Christmas holidays. The WEC will also consider how to generate the support. The recommendations were presented at AWA’s Oct. 2 annual meeting.

Rather than offer direct support to all 12 existing watchmaker schools in North America (including one in Quebec, Canada), said the advisory committee’s report, WEC should focus on those which now teach, or can teach, the intensive 3,000-hour (two-year) curriculum of the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program (Wostep), the universally-recognized standard for teaching service and repair of mechanical and quartz (electronic) watches.

Those five are the watch training programs of the Oklahoma State University, Okmulgee, Oklahoma; North Seattle Community College, Seattle, Wash., the American Watch Institute Academy, Harrison, Ohio, the St. Paul Technical College, St. Paul, Minn., and the Trois Rivieres school (Quebec).

(Though the committee recommendation doesn’t say so, industry support might even be more focused then those. The Seattle school program and a new school in Lititz, Pa., opened in September, are already underwritten by Rolex. The Canadian school isn’t fully Wostep-initiated, and at least one of the other programs is currently suspended.)

The Okmulgee program though is up-and-running, with seven students and one instructor (as do most of the other programs). It is part of OSC’s vocational college and plans to expand to 32 students by 2005. Its advisory board includes representatives of Swatch, Richemont, and Rolex.

Most experts believe that a national enrollment of 125 to 150 students annually is needed to meet the watch and retail jewelry industries’ need for more skilled watchmakers. About 75 are currently enrolled, though only 42 are at Wostep-level schools.

The AWA advisory committee recommended WEC provide the following support for all North American watch school, whether Wostep-level or not: promotional materials, a promotional video, kits and contacts for high school guidance counselors, a website (currently in development) with information about all watch schools; job fairs, and continued AWA lobbying for favorable reports by the U.S. Commerce department (which in the past has said watchmaking is a dying profession).