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Training future woodworkers at high school

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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
We face the reality that the labour shortage issue is a common and urgent concern, significant for firms of all sizes and within all sub-sectors in the wood manufacturing sector. We know that the truth is that it is not limited to our sector and that it is not going away any time soon.
In a recent article in The Globe and Mail, “Canada’s Labour Shortage is Getting Worse, so Why are Wages Not Increasing?” Jason Kirby reports that for every 10 job seekers, those unemployed people who are actively looking for work - 
there are now close to 10 job vacancies, according to an analysis of Statistics Canada data by Mikal Skuterud, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo. That is by far the highest level since Statistics Canada began its vacancy survey in 2015.  Kirby asks the question – with help wanted signs proliferating across Canada, if businesses are so short of workers, why aren’t their paycheques rising faster?” That is not a discussion for this column, but the article does highlight the competitive market for employers trying to attract job seekers.     
While we may not be the highest paying sector, there are many great attributes we can outline when someone is considering a career in wood. Our sector is large and growing. It is a great message to say that we have a sector that is doing well coming out of the pandemic. In reality, the lack of employees is a barrier to many companies being able to do more. But among the many strong points we can provide when someone is considering a career in wood, it does bode well for people to start a career knowing that there is a strong future for the woodworking businesses they might chose to join. It is also good to show people that they get to quickly see the results of their work and that those results are the creation of some of the most beautiful and cherished products in people’s homes and businesses. Canadians love their wood products and that demand is not going away either. We are a great option for creative, tech-savvy people and for those who like to work with their hands.  
Our environmental story is another strong attribute. This was highlighted when a group of industry reps got together recently.  They know this message will resonate with young people. The fact is that we can store carbon in our products, long-term and wood is recyclable. Technology allows us to use more of the product, so there is less wood wasted. Wood takes a fraction of the energy used in the production of competing materials such as aluminum, steel, cement or brick. Sustainable forestry practices require that all trees that are harvested be replanted or regenerated within a short period of time. It’s the law.  
It is obvious that the number of post-secondary spaces available for students and then graduates is far below what our industry needs. This is our key pipeline for skilled workers and we have to ensure the graduates are paid consistent with their level of knowledge. At the recent AWMAC conference there was lots of talk about supply chain issues and labour shortages. People felt that the industry will need to keep investing in training people in their own shops. Individual companies will need to take the time to train those who come to them from job ads and help wanted signs, off the streets, with no experience. It will also include, as many companies are doing, speaking to and working with their local high school woodworking programs. 
Waco’s WoodLINKS program supports high schools and their students to prepare for their woodworking careers.    
During the pandemic, Canadian high school teachers had to leave the friendly confines of their wood shops and deliver online learning to their students. Fortunately they were able this year to return to the classroom. At that time, the WMC adapted some of our traditional high school curriculum materials so teachers who were looking for resources to work with during that unexpected reality, could take advantage of the excellent curriculum (developed by industry and secondary/post-secondary educators) when they could not easily get into their shops to get resources and they didn’t have physical machines and equipment to work with.      
WoodLINKS is a high school curriculum for woodworking that can lead to industry-recognized certification of graduates. The core curriculum contains the fundamentals for entry-level employment in the industry, such as fundamental woodworking, safety, essential skills and technical skills. The curriculum prepares students in both work readiness and wood manufacturing competencies.
The program places a great level of importance on safety. It has value beyond training those students who don’t go on to post-secondary programs and has served to generate students’ interest in moving on to wood-specific apprenticeship training, community college and university programs. Some institutions award academic credit or recognition to students for passing the WOODLINKS program (i.e. Conestoga College and UBC).
Traditionally, Wood LINKS 
is a flexible 240-hour (normally 
120 Introductory-level, 
120 Advanced-level) certificate program for teaching industrial woodworking to Grade 11 and 12 students (typically). Teachers determine what grades they wish to teach it in. It provides a valuable tool for preparing students for careers in the wood industry. It offers students theoretical knowledge and hands-on skills acquired through the completion of exercises, class projects, using tools etc.  
The curriculum is accompanied by comprehensive study guides.  The study guides contain numerous relevant sections, which in most cases include self-tests, to monitor learning as students work their way through. Answers to the tests can be provided directly to the students as part of their home learning experience or can be stripped out, so the tests can be used as assessments by teachers. Upon the successful conclusion of the program, interested students can challenge for a certificate that attests that they have met the industry standard (minimum grade for certification is 70%) for entry-level employment in the wood manufacturing industry. This allows students to receive an industry credential to go along with the education credential they receive from the school.  
When WoodLINKS was originally created in B.C. in 1996, it was a co-operative development process involving representatives of the wood products industry and secondary and post-secondary educational institutions. The high school teachers were looking for material for students who would benefit from practical and hands-on skilled trades learning and industry was looking for more good quality entry-level workers. Eventually, when the provincial funding was no longer available, the WMC and WoodLINKS joined forces and the program became an integral part of our suite of human resource products. When we assumed ownership, we were fortunate to receive the benefit of the years of experience of the program administrators and users. We subsequently updated and reorganized the curriculum, thanks to subject matter experts from industry and education. The updated curriculum offers revamped core learning requirements and prepares students for the four pathways for success: workplace, apprenticeship, college or university.
One of our big additions was the development of sub-sector modules. Teachers select a sub-sector module in one of ten disciplines, including: Furniture, Windows and Doors, Cabinets and Millwork, Fine Woodworking, Manufactured Housing, Entrepreneurship, Remanufactured Wood and Panel Products, Lumber and Pulp and Paper. The skills to be developed with these modules were again identified by committees of educators and manufacturers from the various product groups being covered. The sub-sector modules allow schools to tailor their program to local industry, ensuring that the curriculum and training received by the student will pay dividends once the student is ready to search for work.
The WMC was pleased to support and assist teachers who had to leave their shops and transition to teaching from a distance. It is great to see that the vision of the industry champions who created WoodLINKS continue to contribute and help develop the future generation of entry-level skilled graduates for our sector and for the related post-secondary programs.
If you are in contact with your 
local high school, and want to see a program set up to help them train future employees for you, we would 
be pleased to work with your company to discuss the benefits of the WoodLINKS program with them. Please contact Richard Lipman, President, Wood Manufacturing Council, rlipman@wmc-cfb.ca.

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