The HR and training tools that have been produced by WMC are ‘for the sector by the sector.’
Almost without exception, each project that has resulted in a program or product has been overseen by a National Project Steering Committee, which has been comprised of representatives from industry, education, other interested parties (associations and governments) and, on occasion, people with specific expertise that help us to create a good result.
Using our labour market information, we have been able to demonstrate the need to undertake a certain initiative and create a good business case, which often resulted in our getting to work on a potential solution to address a specific HR need. The initial thought in developing a program to address the need for entry-level workers through a pre-employment training program was to target people who were underemployed.
The original plan was to create a ‘Wood 101’ type of online course, which would help to create a pool of skilled people with a basic background in wood, who could show up at the plant knowing more about the industry than the person off the street.
After some deliberation, the project steering committee suggested the reach needed to be wider – not only capture the underemployed, but also include the vast number of individuals who may never have the opportunity or the awareness of our firms to join the wood-manufacturing workforce. Today, because of that vision, we are involved in interesting and satisfying projects that are training entry-level workers for the sector. We have included and offered project deliveries for aboriginals, youth at risk, persons with disabilities and new Canadian constituencies. As well, we have a ‘women in non-traditional trades’ delivery currently underway. This training is enhancing skills, giving opportunities, and providing career awareness and information to interested audiences.
We are listening to manufacturers in the industry and the message is consistent, a component of today’s applicant pool for entry-level positions is not prepared for the workforce, nor do they know or understand the industry they are applying for. More emphasis is needed on providing some basic pre-employment skills and a better understanding of the industry, including employers’ expectations.
Our Wood Employee Readiness Curriculum (WERC), the skills development program designed to train people for entry-level opportunities, was initially focused on the equity communities - First Nations, Inuit and Metis, new immigrants, youth at risk, women in non-traditional trades and persons with disabilities specifically.
Our experience over time is that the course serves any audience that has the interest. It provides participants with transition and upgrading training in wood manufacturing, while also addressing workplace accommodation issues and essentials skills requirements for the industry. The objective is to provide basic skills and knowledge to individuals from a variety of populations who are interested in careers in our business. This skills development and recruiting initiative will forge relationships across Canada and will establish collaborative partnerships with government, industry, education and organizations that serve and train immigrants and other equity groups.
The program has flexibility and can be customized for a wide variety of situations. A ‘regular’ offering of the course lasts approximately 18 weeks, highlighted by four weeks of essential skills training, eight weeks of woodshop and six weeks of job placement, which gives the employer the opportunity to observe the individual as a potential hire. The steering committee took great care to develop a comprehensive intake assessment, so applicants interested in WERC would undergo an evaluation to assess their ability and fit for enrolment into the program.
This is administered by the agency partners (for example YMCA) with support from WMC. Accepted participants begin to upgrade their essential and life skills (reading, math, teamwork, self-management etc.). This initial piece is just one of the components that can be expanded or expedited depending on the experience and qualification of each candidate or the needs of the sponsor organization or manufacturer.
Project participants also participate in basic wood manufacturing education, on practical skills and techniques that will be used on the job. Safety training is mandatory for all program participants, given that students will participate in a job-shadowing component on-site at local manufacturing companies. Where possible, we try to take advantage of the expertise of colleges, so we have professional trainers and facilities associated with WERC.
The WERC curriculum incorporates foundation skills (working with others, health and safety, essential skills, employability development, language skills); sector related skills (manufacturing equipment and processes, applied academics) and occupational specific skills (job attachment and career development, job process and equipment specific, hand and power tools etc.). WERC helps create additional sources of skilled labour that may be accessed by sector manufacturers. Participants will have learned basic wood skills and WERC-trained individuals will be assimilated more easily into manufacturing environments.
The WERC program is a successful recruitment and retention vehicle for the industry. It is key to engage wood manufacturers from the onset, developing partnerships with communities and governments to ensure the needs of the industry are met. The outcome is to prepare prospective entry-level workers and to increase employment opportunities for individuals from diverse populations.
The WMC team is committed to working with and for the wood manufacturing industry, realizing that human resources issues are an ongoing concern and the need for entry-level workers is on the rise. The WERC Program is a ‘win-win’ for industry - supporting recruitment and retention.
Richard Lipman is President of the Wood Manufacturing Council.