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Workbench (for Prior Learning)

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email rlipman@wmc-cfb.ca
First, a thanks to everyone who expressed an interest in our Essential Skills materials, which prompted me to highlight an additional HR tool we have available – our “Workbench.”
Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) is the process used to identify, document, assess and recognize skills and knowledge. PLAR can help people, and the companies they might work for, to identify the skills and knowledge they have for employment opportunities. It is a great HR tool to help find the best match between individuals and available positions. It assesses and evaluates the knowledge, skills and abilities of a potential employee. It helps an employer determine both capability and suitability of a job candidate, matching potential employees with appropriate positions and workplaces.  
PLAR helps employers find value in a potential employee’s work and life experiences that can build and develop skills outside of formal training. Skills and knowledge are learned in many situations. Work, workplace training and formal education are the most obvious. But skills and knowledge are also gained in other areas, such as independent study, volunteer activities, family life, travel and hobbies, among others.    
In our career promotion work with students, we found that it was not a case that kids were “de-selecting” our careers, but rather it was often a case that they did not know they existed. Over the years, recommendations from our labour market research indicated that more outreach to equity groups (such as new Canadians, aboriginals, women, persons with disabilities etc.) could expand the pool of prospective workers for the sector. This could help offset any labour shortages the sector is experiencing. It would also expose more workers to the great careers in wood processing. It could often be individuals who otherwise might not have considered 
the wood manufacturing sector as an employer, as some may not have been exposed to the sector previously.
When we do our recruiting for our pre-employment training programs, we do an intake assessment with the candidates, which provides us with an opportunity to assess affinity for the industry and to assess the candidates’ potential success in the program.   What we find is that, in the absence of formal education, people do often have some experience and knowledge in wood and building areas, but they don’t think that they do. They have worked with family members or in volunteer situations where they have used tools, done measurement, built things etc. People do have a variety of learning experiences in their lives and their past experiences and accomplishments count, even if they weren’t from a classroom setting.  
WMC (Wood Manufacturing Council) responded to a need with our Workbench, which is an HR assessment tool that uses PLAR principles to help current and future employees and employers to more effectively match people with jobs. This is a sector-specific PLAR assessment tools, based on the needs of the wood industry.   
The main objective is to increase the ability of individual woodworking firms and both new and existing employees to assess and recognize qualifications, often obtained outside formal or structured educational programs. We wanted to create assessment mechanisms which help improve the ability of individual woodworking firms to assess and recognize qualifications of potential new entrants who in turn will be able to access employment/career opportunities. This should help improve the employment integration of workers, including foreign trained individuals, into our industry and help individual firms to fill current and future skills gaps.

There are many benefits from using PLAR in the woodworking sector:
• PLAR helps identify employees from non-traditional sources to fill 
labour shortages.
• PLAR fairly assesses the appropriateness of a potential employee’s training and skills, whether these were obtained 
in another country or in another industry.
• PLAR saves time and money by helping employers hire successfully – the right person for the right position.
• PLAR saves time and money by eliminating duplication 
of training because it evaluates and identifies the value of an individual’s training from other places, sources and experiences.
• PLAR can help potential employees recognize the value of a career in the advanced wood products sector – by demonstrating how their skills and capabilities can be transferred to this sector from other careers and experiences.

The Workbench includes a number of useful tools. Included are Comparative Skills Profiles, which allow people to see how skills used in specific jobs in our sector can be transferred from jobs in other industries and one’s personal life (home or volunteer). The skills are derived from the National Occupational Standards (NOS) and the work examples provided relate to other occupations found within the National Occupational Classification. The tool can also be used in the self-assessment for individuals to write examples of how they have used the skills described in the NOS in other industries.  
The Self-Assessment / Assessment Tool allows people to evaluate their skills against WMC’s NOS for four occupations in the woodworking sector. It can also be distributed by a supervisor or career counsellor to work with an employee or job candidate to help identify areas of strength and development.  There is also an Interview Builder which contains questions that are based on the skills found in the NOS and is meant to be used as a starting point in creating interview guides to assess job candidates. The tool currently contains an interview guide for five different occupations. Interview questions can be customized and additional questions can be added.
Three other informative guides have been developed to supplement the information provided for users in the modules so that they can further prepare for work within the sector. The guides include How to Assess Transferable Skills (designed for employers to recognize and assess skills that can be transferred from other occupations and industries to those within the sector) and What Are Transferable Skills (designed for use by job candidates who are looking for work in the sector or people who are looking to change jobs or pursue a promotion in the sector). It describes the concept of transferable skills, how to identify transferable skills and how to use the information to find a job. The Resume and Interview Guide takes a job candidate through a step-by-step process to prepare their resume and to prepare for an interview. Samples and important considerations are provided throughout the document to guide candidates in the right direction when seeking employment in the industry.  
We know in some instances tradespeople with enough work experiences in a designated trade (i.e. a pre-determined number of years and proven experience) who want to become fully qualified journeypersons, can apply to write a certification exam without having to fulfill practical and technical training components. Individuals can also apply for assessment of work experience, level placement testing and review or validation of other jurisdictional credentials. Formal foreign credentials can be recognized in Canada. Newcomers to Canada, before they can work in their occupations, may have to get their international credentials recognized. This means that experts will have to verify that the education, language skills and work experience gained outside Canada meet specific standards. The individual will need to know if their job or occupation is regulated or non-regulated in Canada and where to get the international qualifications recognized. Non-regulated occupations don’t normally require special licenses or certifications.  
As always, the WMC resources were developed under the guidance of a national stakeholders’ steering committee, comprised of industry human resources professionals and representatives of governments, immigrant serving agencies and the education community.
Email wmc@wmc-cfb.ca for a copy of our PLAR Workbench.

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