It is hard to believe that about 20 years have passed since we first opened the Wood Manufacturing Council. Those early days were exciting times as our board of directors and staff set out to create a new organization, one of Canada’s national sector councils, aimed at addressing the long-term HR issues being faced by those in the wood manufacturing industry. We took this new opportunity and followed the research, gathered from people in our industry, to develop
tools and programs to help address the HR challenges.
The approach was “for industry, by industry.”
Our founding members established our organization because of its unique opportunity to contribute.
WMC essentially resulted from a conversation amongst manufacturers about where our future skilled workforce will come from? Many of the industry champions who established the WMC were the same ones who helped create UBC’s Centre for Advanced Wood Processing and the degree program in Wood Products Processing. Later, some of those same folks made yet another significant contribution, as they were instrumental in the establishment of the wood cluster, initially the Bluewater Wood Alliance, now the Wood Manufacturing Cluster of Ontario (WMCO).
From the beginning, we spent our time talking to companies so we could pinpoint areas in which we could support the sector. A significant amount of resources were invested in the development of labour market information (LMI), which allowed us to document the challenges and endeavour to qualify and quantify the HR issues, so we might understand what the priorities were and what the potential solutions might be. Inherently, the industry knows what is needed, but providing formal, independent, third party research allowed us to make a strong business case to develop training programs and HR tools.
Our first effort was to produce a situational analysis, a secondary research piece that allowed us to understand the demographics of the sector and to compile a useful summary of the studies that had been done to date on HR and related issues in our sector. It provided us with a very good initial list of critical HR challenges to follow. As we continued to drill down in some of the areas of concern, people requested a more comprehensive study, which provided for some primary research and allowed us to undertake some unique forecasting of sector employment in our sector. The 2008 sector study resulted in six specific research reports and our final report brought together vital information on trends, demographics, and market issues.
We covered areas such as attraction, recruitment and retention and we provided information on labour market outlooks, skills needs and training. We worked with The Conference Board of Canada to produce our most recent study in 2016 – “Advancing Wood Manufacturing in Canada – Canada’s Advanced Wood Manufacturing Sector: 2015-16 Labour Market information Update.” These studies have been used widely by industry, educators and governments alike.
We followed this research, transforming the knowledge gained into tools that companies could use this to their advantage. Uniquely positioned to work in this area, WMC devoted it’s time to developing the necessary HR tools, programs and solutions that could be easily accessed by all companies, small to large. We made these tools economical so that companies could benefit from them, while keeping their costs down and remaining focused on their business activities. We now offer an extensive suite of HR related tools and along the way, WMC has created such products as our Prior Learning Assessment & Recognition (PLAR) Tool, our Rapid Internal Skills Enhancement Program, the On-Line Management Training Program and the Essential Skills Assessment Tool, amongst others.
WMC, recognizing the importance of partnering industry with education, assumed ownership of the WoodLINKS program, which initially was developed in response to the needs of industry and secondary school educators. Recognizing the potential this course had in introducing students to the industry and at the same time providing wood manufacturing companies with skilled entry-level workers, WMC was pleased to be able to continue the efforts of the WoodLINKS Society in B.C. and its supporters, who initially developed the program. Because of our national mandate, we were able to offer it from B.C. to the Atlantic Provinces. We met with school boards, ministries of education and high school teachers to promote the program and have expanded the curriculum to include sub-sector modules.
Following the end of the Sector Council Program in 2014, many of the 32 sectors that had councils like WMC closed their organizations. Our board of directors could have done the same, but they believed in the products and services that had been developed. They chose to take a new direction – and we transitioned more into delivering the programs we had produced, rather than just being a product developer, as was required under the Sector Council Program.
While implementing WoodLINKS across the country, WMC noted that there was also a need for a pre-employment program, again led by the LMI to consider that the additional employees required by our sector could be recruited from various equity groups. Determined to offer opportunity to all Canadians, WMC established a program called WERC (Wood Employment Readiness Curriculum). This program was designed to train individuals for entry-level occupations in advanced wood manufacturing, specifically for Indigenous communities, new immigrants etc. It combines wood manufacturing skills, essential skills and basic life skill training together, and serves a useful place in the spectrum of employer needs.
Like all of our products and services, the program was developed by a committee of industry reps, post-secondary educators and subject matter experts. As the original program has evolved over the years, it has again been the result of input from our stakeholders that has led the way. The aim continues to be the development of good quality entry-level workers, people with strong basic skills, who can start their careers and can continue to learn under the direction of their companies. We normally provide 10-12 weeks of training, both essential skills and technical skills and wherever possible, we work with the colleges that have woodworking and cabinetmaking programs, so the participants get first class facilities and instructors. The training is followed by a job placement, normally of 10-12 weeks.
We have been fortunate to offer training in a great number of communities in many provinces and we have had the privilege of working with a wide variety of wood companies and educators, amongst others, along the way. We have been asked to work with broad audiences from across the general population, as well as with specific audiences and communities, like women, newcomers, refugees, indigenous groups, as well as those with multiple barriers to employment. We have certainly encountered the many challenges that our sector companies experience every day. It has been great to have had the opportunity to do the career awareness work, to introduce our sector to new people who might not have thought about wood processing as a career option. We have also connected with many employment counsellors, career centres and community agencies that are serving their clients, the jobseekers who are looking for training and employment opportunities. Many of the program participants continue to make contributions to the companies who took them on and offered work experience and subsequent employment. We hear regularly from those who took our training and benefitted from the instructors and training partners who helped them gain and hone their skills.
The best part of the 20 years has been the people we have met and worked with along the way. I have been honored to work with people that bring talent, commitment and enthusiasm to their jobs and their trade and who are tremendous ambassadors for the wood processing business. I thank those who were at the forefront, our founders and Board members over the years, and our project managers.
I am very thankful to our many steering committee members - volunteers from industry, government, education and other groups. Their advice and input was instrumental in developing relevant products. In reality, we did not have any great difficulty finding representatives to serve, as people are proud of their industries, and saw the opportunity to address a need. Like the strong trade associations that serve our industries, the WMC provides a vehicle where people can give back and help companies and workers succeed.
We look forward to more - next year and beyond!