The Wood Manufacturing Council, in partnership with others in the woodworking sector, has been part of a unique opportunity to offer high school woodworking teachers, administrators and guidance/career staff the chance to meet post-secondary educators and industry for a day of information about the wood processing sector. These complimentary one-day events have been held at colleges across Ontario.
Along with a tremendous chance to network with stakeholders, collectively we provide the high school representatives with information on our sector’s skills needs, career opportunities and the educational pathways to those careers. We talk about value-added wood industry demographics, key and emerging occupations, skills needs and gaps, apprenticeship and employment opportunities.
The days feature guest speakers from the woodworking industry and post-secondary education, information on post-secondary woodworking programs, and Woodlinks, and as time and the program permits, the participants get to build a project in the wood shop that they can take home to their own shops or can be donated to a deserving organization. The key to these events is the opportunity for teachers to interact with industry and educators and the event sponsors, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.
With the experience now of having facilitated several of these events over the past few years, we have been dedicating a greater proportion of the days’ agendas to the post secondary institutions and their programs. The colleges and their people have made these events tremendously valuable as informational and woodworking community-building events. Networking between the high school teachers and their post-secondary counterparts is one the greatest takeaways from these events.
These sessions provide the host school the opportunity to showcase their institution and their programs, allowing time for tours, technology demonstrations, learning/instruction and time on the equipment for the teachers. Each event is unique and customized, based on the desires of the host programs, so they can maximize the value to the teachers given the environment, facilities etc. There is no shortage of enthusiasm and passion that is brought to the table by the host staff. Included in the programs of these PD-style days have been presentations by industry representatives, usually from members of the program advisory committees, demonstrations and presentations by current students and by recent graduates, who come with information on what they learned, how they are applying it in industry and how the programs they followed influenced their career choices and specific interests.
Each event includes time for all the participating post-secondary institutions to make presentations about their programs. We have had as many as five institutions (including the UBC Centre for Advanced Wood Processing) speak to the teachers at one event. Their presentations offer opportunities for a great deal of information exchange. The schools get to talk about their institutions and specifically about the wood processing programs they offer. They highlight their shops and the equipment they have, their focus, areas of concentration and unique features, time spent in the shop vs. the classroom (theory) and their overall expectations. The colleges also get to talk about their staff - the talent they have to instruct their programs, which in some cases includes people that were graduates of their programs.
Another element of the presentations includes information about the costs that people can expect to encounter, so accurate information can be passed along to the students. The post-secondary schools provide details on tuition, books, additional fees, approximate costs of housing and residence etc. Student support programs are also highlighted. There are always plenty of questions for all and the resulting discussion with teachers has been wide-ranging, from scholarships, to such topics as mental-health issues, essential skills and literacy concerns, exposure to employers, placement rates and beyond. The institutions also talk about how and where their students demonstrate their skills, exhibit their work and contribute to the community. The efforts and contribution of staff are also noted and senior representatives from the colleges often visit to bring greetings and thank the high school teachers for participating.
The post-secondary reps take full advantage of these events to network with each other as well, and are always looking to learn and consider areas where they might be able to co-operate.
Also not lost in the overall conversation at these events are the contributions the programs receive from industry. All the schools have paid tribute to those who serve on their program advisory committees and certainly you cannot tour the shops where these programs are offered without seeing first-hand the kinds of contributions and participation they receive from industry suppliers, with equipment and supplies prevalent in all the schools’ shops.
We have been offering these events for three years now and we have had sessions at Algonquin College’s Woodroofe (Ottawa) campus and their campus in Perth, where teachers got to see their heritage woodworking (carpentry-joinery) program and tour Deslaurier Custom Cabinets. We have held several events at Conestoga College’s Woodworking Centre of Ontario, and in 2015 at Humber College, where we plan to return in 2017. This year we had a large turnout for a great day at Georgian College, which included a good deal of informative time in their shop and a tour of a local wood manufacturing company, North Shore Finishes in Barrie.
The next phase of this initiative is to get some of the teachers that have participated in these events to bring their students to the institutions so the kids themselves can see the facilities first-hand. We always hear that attending the sessions are teachers that are former students of these woodworking courses, coming back to see the schools again, and bringing their colleagues to see the facilities and get connected and informed about the woodworking industry.