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Wood Manufacturing Council study examines industry HR issues

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Iain MacDonald

An important new study released by the Wood Manufacturing Council, offers a detailed look at the needs and issues facing the industry as well as a unique set of recommendations and strategies on how to address them.
WMC commissioned the Conference Board of Canada (CoB) to prepare a report that provides information on major needs and issues facing the sector, including economic factors that shape skills and labour supply and demand; the effects of skills and labour shortages; and the occupations and skills that businesses need to meet their workforce needs. It also provides ideas on strategies that businesses, industry associations, labour groups, educational institutions, and governments can use to develop and sustain a strong and successful workforce.
The report notes that the advanced wood manufacturing sector is an important contributor to Canada’s economic performance.
The sector employs approximately 88,000 workers, and the Conference Board of Canada predicts that it will add 7,900 more workers by 2020. However, stakeholders have concerns that businesses in the sector will not have enough qualified workers to leverage these opportunities.
Results from the Conference Board’s Advanced Wood Manufacturing Sector: Human Resources Trends and Issues Survey show that businesses in the sector lack qualified workers, have trouble attracting new workers, and need workers with more up-to-date skills.
Recruiting and retaining workers with the right skills is critical if the sector is to maximize its potential for growth. To address these challenges properly, businesses and stakeholders need relevant, accurate information about economic trends, skills and occupational needs, recruitment barriers, training programs, and potential solutions. That is where this study comes in, as it provides independent and current documented research that all in the sector can turn to in support of their policy and planning activities and in support of the action they choose to undertake.
Iain MacDonald, chair of the Wood Manufacturing Council (WMC) and director of the Centre for Advanced Wood Processing, University of British Columbia, says the report is important for the industry because “it provides empirical evidence for the things that we already see out there anecdotally through talking to companies and working with them.”
And Richard Lipmann, WMC president, says the new study not only identifies the human resources issues, but - equally important - provides ideas and strategies on how they can be addressed.
“In terms of finding solutions,” Lipman says, “if people have their own ideas or initiatives they want to undertake, they now have a documented research piece and a business case to support these activities.”
For example if someone wants to make a funding request to implement a certain solution, Lipman says they now have an independent study to make their point rather than just anecdotal ideas.”
“To us it’s always been a combination of issues,” MacDonald says. “From support that’s required from the outside and the things companies can do themselves.
Starting wages in the value-added wood industry are quite low, and of course that’s always going to be a factor if there are more attractive options, MacDonald says.
“But you can do other things to make your workplace more attractive to people; providing benefits, providing a positive work environment etc.”
McDonald and Lipman also raised the issue of training and the fact that some companies still hold on to the myth that you shouldn’t invest in training employees, because they will then leave and take a better job.
I once was part of a conversation where someone asked: “What if I train them and they leave?” says Lipman. And the response he got was: “What if you don’t and they stay?”
The CoB also reports that skills and labour shortages affect firms in several ways.
These include reduced productivity, reduced profitability, reduced sales, and an inability to leverage new opportunities. Skills and labour shortages can also increase costs, especially when employers need to use overtime to complete projects on time. These shortages also increase the effort needed to maintain existing lines of businesses, which reduces opportunities for innovation, and delays investments in new technology. The sector’s human resource challenges will worsen if businesses and sector stakeholders do not take action to address them.
Many businesses and stakeholders are aware of these challenges, and have taken steps to address them.

For more information and a copy of the study contact: wmc@wmc-cfb.ca

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