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What Is a Makerspace and How Can it Build Job Skills?

Abigail Green

May 11, 2023

Do you want to learn a new skill or try out a new tool? Want to work on a specific project, make something with your hands, or meet new people who share your interests of creating and building? Makerspaces are the perfect place to do all of these things and more. 

Whether it’s a makerspace in a school, a standalone facility, or a library makerspace, these hubs of creativity are cropping up all over the country. Many makerspaces are open to learners and makers of all ages. Some require a monthly membership or paid classes, while others are free to the public. Find out more about what makerspaces have to offer. 

What Is a Makerspace and Who Are They For?

What is a makerspace? Sometimes called a creator space, a makerspace is a collaborative work environment where people can participate in and/or learn about activities like metal working, wood working, sewing, and sometimes coding and tech projects, too.  

Some people are drawn to makerspaces for practical reasons, like learning how to refinish the hardwood floors in their home or getting trained to do electrical work. Others who seek out makerspaces near them are looking for instruction and tools they may not have access to elsewhere, including 3D printers, laser cutters, and sewing machines. 

People visit makerspaces to learn new skills like woodworking, to get access to tools like 3D printers or laser cutters, and simply to have fun and be creative. 

And many people visit makerspaces purely for fun, to make something cool while connecting with other creative individuals in their community. 

Here are some examples of makerspaces around the U.S. and what you can do and learn there.

At Mixxer Winston-Salem, workshops include jewelry making, leatherworking, blacksmithing, and welding as well as more high-tech offerings like Intro to Blender 3D modeling software and smartphone photography. Instructors are experienced professionals, educators, and artists in the community.

Decatur Makers has a specific course structure that’s divided into three levels. Those interested in welding or 3D printing, for example, must first take training classes in order to pass safety checks and gain access to those tools. 

The Georgia-based makerspace also offers individual fee-based specialty classes open to members and the public. Offerings include Turning a Bowl on the Wood Lathe and Printmaking with Linocut. Lastly, the facility also hosts free lifelong learning classes open to anyone on such subjects as Arduino/Raspberry Pi and intro to the basics of 3D design in a CAD/CAM program.

There are even mobile makerspaces that come to schools, which include equipment and sometimes professional development for teachers.

In some parts of the U.S. there are even mobile makerspaces that will come to you. Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA, offers a Mobile Fab Lab—short for “fabrication lab.” It’s basically a digital makerspace on wheels that brings equipment such as laptops, 3D printers, laser and vinyl cutters to schools and other facilities to teach learners how to design projects on computer screens and have them fabricated by robotic machines in a matter of hours. 

Each three-day-or-more Mobile Fab Lab experience includes teacher professional development. For those not within driving distance, the Mobile Fab Lab offers virtual workshops as well. 

While Lowell Makes offers pottery and cutting-board-making classes, the learning is not limited to what happens once a week in these workshops, said John Noto, co-founder and treasurer of the Massachusetts makerspace.

“It brings a non-traditional learning environment,” Lowell told Popular Science, noting that the most valuable learning happens during one-on-one interactions between members, not through classes. “You can learn stuff in an apprenticeship-type way.” 

What Job Skills Can You Learn at a Makerspace?

Makerspaces have important implications for economic development for several reasons, including increasing access to tools and training, according to Economic Development Quarterly. Other benefits of makerspaces are encouraging entrepreneurship, supporting small business growth by providing services, offering workforce training, and increasing workforce retention.

Makerspaces are uniquely positioned to help increase workforce development across the country, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The U.S. Small Business Administration recently recognized two New England makerspaces for supporting vocational education and job placement in their communities. “Makerspaces are uniquely positioned to help increase workforce development across the country,” said an SBA spokesperson. “These spaces are open to people focused on obtaining new skills, including current and aspiring entrepreneurs.”

Those work-related skills may include:

  • Welding
  • Woodworking
  • Floor refinishing
  • Wall repair and painting
  • Tiling
  • Electrical work

There are good reasons that gaining trade job skills remains one of the top workforce training trends. Industry sources note that there is a significant shortage of skilled tradespeople. Demand has been greatly outpacing the supply, with no signs of slowing down. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the industry as a whole to grow 10% by 2028, and that more than 3 million skilled trades jobs will remain open in 2028.

In addition to helping train those entering the workforce or upskilling in their current job, makerspaces also enable people to change careers or even start a new career after retirement. That was the case for a retired racecar engineer in New Mexico who signed up for a membership at his local makerspace. He learned new skills like plasma cutting and TIG welding that led him to start his own business designing and building custom prototypes. 

Alternatives to Makerspaces

If you don’t live near a makerspace that offers memberships and classes to the public, don’t fret. There are lots of other options, both in person and online, to build your DIY skills.

Maker Resources at Public Libraries

While library makerspaces have been created in many communities, those that don’t have dedicated makerspaces may still have access to many of the same resources. Some public libraries offer a “Library of Things” that can be borrowed. These may include tools, household appliances, fishing poles, and camping gear.

The Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, for example, offers a Teen Library of Things specifically for customers ages 10-19. It includes sewing machines, bike repair kits, GoPro video cameras, and STEAM kits, such as a knitting loom kit.

Conveniently, if you don’t know how to use an item, a library may offer a class or let you check out a book on the subject—e.g., The Essential Air Fryer Cookbook or How to Build a Bike (in a Weekend).

Colorado State Library’s website LibrariesLearn.org offers a comprehensive downloadable guide for library and museum staff interested in developing makerspaces. 

DIY Workshops at Home and Hardware Stores

Many home and hardware stores like Lowes and The Home Depot host DIY workshops for adults and kids interested in building something themselves. Lowes, for example, hosts free live and on-demand online workshops on such topics as how to install your own cabinets and countertops and how to build an indoor vertical herb garden. Kids’ in-store and virtual workshops provide the materials and instructions for young makers to build their own flower box or photo holder. 

The Home Depot also offers DIY workshops in-store and online for free for makers of all ages. Using inspiration from The Home Depot’s Kids Workshops, Science Fair Central offers the Operation Build It virtual field trip and a companion Educator Guide that instructors can download that provides interactive tools for teaching students about supply chains, trade careers, and other practical knowledge. 

Classes With Local Artists and Makers 

In many communities, local artists and craftspeople teach classes at makerspaces. If your area doesn’t have a makerspace, you can go right to the source and learn to DIY from expert makers themselves.

If you don’t have a makerspace nearby, you can often take classes directly from local artists and makers in your community.

For instance, a local glassblowing studio might offer classes to the public. You could learn how to make your own terrarium at a plant or garden store, or learn how to sew your own sundress directly from a seamstress in your town.  

Your local tourism organization, city magazine, public library, or even an Etsy search for “made in Maine” (or your particular city or state) can turn up some good options. For example, here’s a list of classes and workshops with Baltimore’s maker community put together by the nonprofit, Visit Baltimore.

CourseStorm offers simple class registration tools for places offering formal and nonformal classes like makerspaces, museums, and other education programs. Reach out to us and let’s talk about how we can help your organization.

Abigail Green

Abby has overseen content development for higher education degree programs related to education, technology, business, and healthcare. One of her first jobs after college was working with children’s programs for the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She is an experienced and versatile writer and editor whose work has been published by Johns Hopkins, the University of Baltimore Alumni Magazine, and The Chicago Tribune.

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