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WEIMA June 2023 Leader
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Recognizing prior learning

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email
These are, to say the least, unusual times.
Getting good employees, in sufficient numbers, is regularly an issue for many in our industry. Even as we are (hopefully) slowly emerging from the restrictions and impacts due to COVID-19, there are many manufacturers who are reporting really good market conditions, and a need for people. I have heard from companies that there are some good people available from sectors that may not be doing as well as wood processing. Our online Management Training Program is perfect to help people prepare to join the supervisory and management ranks of our companies. Using Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR), adopting the Wood Manufacturing Council’s (WMC) Workbench, offers a way to assess the skills of other prospective employees.   
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, identify and evaluate the skills and knowledge they have for employment opportunities.     
In our early years, the WMC spent a lot of time and resources on career awareness and career promotion issues. In our research in this area, we found that it was often not a case that kids were de-selecting careers in woodworking, but rather they did not know they even existed, or they didn’t think about them. Over the years, recommendations from our labour market research indicated that more outreach to equity groups (such as new Canadians, indigenous peoples, women, persons with disabilities etc.) could expand the pool of prospective workers for the sector. This could help offset any labour shortages our companies were experiencing. This would expose more workers to the great careers available in wood processing and these were often individuals who otherwise might not have considered the wood manufacturing sector as an employer. Some may not have been exposed to the sector previously.
As part of all the pre-employment training we do throughout the country, we recruit the participants on behalf of the local employers and that allows us to expose a great many people to woodworking careers. We do an intake assessment with the prospective candidates, which provides us with an opportunity to assess their 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 of woodworking, construction or building, but they don’t always realize 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.  
As with all our programs and products, the WMC provided what industry told us they required and created 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 tool, based exclusively on the needs of the wood industry.   
The main objective of the Workbench 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 WMC’s 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 participants to evaluate their skills against WMC’s NOS for 4 occupations in the woodworking sector. It can also be utilized 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 5 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 helps take 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.  
The Workbench, like all other WMC resources, was developed under the guidance of a national steering committee, comprised of industry human resources professionals, along with post-secondary educators from cabinetmaking and woodworking courses, government officials, and on this project, people from agencies that serve immigrant communities. We would be pleased to send you a copy of our PLAR Workbench. Email with your request.

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