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Working to address industry skills and labour challenges

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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
Our “founding fathers,” the industry champions who established the WMC, did so with a desire to assist the sector to address its skills and labour challenges.
We have been doing an increasing number of intakes of our pre-employment training program over the last few years, in various regions across the country and we are seeing many of our participants finding entry-level and higher employment opportunities 
with kitchen cabinet manufacturers, millwork companies, furniture producers and other wood manufacturers.  
Our pre-employment program known as “WERC” – 
the Wood Employee Readiness Curriculum is an entry level program. We are not producing apprentices in eight to 10 weeks, we are assisting participants to get good basic skills to fill entry level positions in the wood manufacturing sector. Our message to project participants is that we will assist them to get entry level opportunities in the industry and we tell the manufacturers that we will provide them with people that have good entry level skills, from a comprehensive multi-week training program specifically for the wood manufacturing sector.  
We assist by promoting the sector and its careers in the region we are working in and we often reach out to people who might not have previously known, or thought of, the wood manufacturing sector as a career choice. The project allows us the ability to do that – something that individual manufacturers and their associations want to do, but may be stretched from a resources perspective to undertake to the extent they would like to.
We recruit folks we believe are suitable candidates and then provide them with some basic training, so they have some skills, some knowledge, an understanding of the industry and employers expectations’, some safety training etc., before they reach the manufacturer’s floor. Manufacturers appreciate that this work is done on their behalf and that some learning is done ahead of time, to reduce errors in the plant, and they appreciate that the profile of their industry and businesses has been raised.  
Each program is slightly different and there is flexibility to customize the delivery to respond to the needs of employers or the community that we are working with. In general however, we have followed the direction of the Project Steering Committee that developed the WERC curriculum guidelines. They discussed over multiple meetings, what skills and attributes a good quality 
entry level worker should 
have, and they developed the model as such.  
The Steering Committee, like those of all of the WMC’s projects, was comprised of industry representatives, including HR managers, post-secondary educators and subject matter experts. In the case of this program, the initial plan was to expand the reach of the sector’s recruitment efforts, so we also had representation from a variety of equity groups – new immigrants, aboriginal organisations, youth employment organisations , and other groups. We now offer the program to all audiences.  
Our programs/projects begin with community outreach, contacting local agencies, visiting communities, advertising in local papers, hosting information sessions, meeting employment agencies and counsellors, consulting with employers etc – all in the search of ideal candidates. Prospective participants who express interest in the project are invited to attend an information session to learn about the project, ask questions etc. Those most interested are scheduled for interviews and the appropriate number will be selected.  
During this project set-up period, that includes the recruitment and selection of the participants, we also identify the project training facility, inclusive of the wood shop, classrooms and instructors. Wherever possible, we would endeavour to use the facilities of the local community college that has a cabinet making program (or carpentry program). This offers our participants the best in facilities and top rate instructors. The selected participants then do a period of Workplace Essential Skills and depending on the course, this would vary from two weeks to longer. In some instances, such as an intake of newcomers, there might also be a period of language training offered by a local agency prior to the essential skills component.  
The next component is the Introduction to Shop, which allows participants to learn and hone their skills in the workshop. Participants receive instruction on hand tools and machinery, depending on the availability. The group would learn about tools, work employability skills, employers’ expectation etc. We also provide participants with a varying number of safety courses, so they can obtain up-to-date certifications to bring to their employers. Options include CPR, First Aid, CSTS (that includes WHMIS), Working at Heights, and also Basic Electrical and Scissor Lift training (in certain situations).
The program then moves to a Work Experience component, where the students are placed with an employer, in order to use and enhance their skills and abilities, while demonstrating to the employers that they have the interest and commitment to work for them. Wherever possible, the Work Experience takes place in a business that is looking for people, so a good performance could well result in employment. A successful outcome could also include a return to school. The WMC supports transition to employment and/or further education as required. Follow up and support are key to successful outcomes. The WMC coordinates and gathers information, reports and makes recommendations, inclusive of results and the success stories of the project and the partnerships formed. WMC management 
is responsible for all aspects of the project and ensuring each one is delivered per the agreement of the project.
We will talk more about 
our WERC projects in 
future columns.

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