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Skills matching and opportunities in wood manufacturing

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email
Work continues on the WMC’s Skills Matching and Opportunities in Wood Manufacturing Project. The project encompasses many of the career promotion and awareness activities the Wood Manufacturing Council does on behalf of, and for the benefit of the sector. WMC has not had a specific “recruiting/career awareness” project of this magnitude in many years and it is a great initiative to undertake.   
We have had such positive reaction and eager participation from so many stakeholders, who have engaged in and contributed to all the activities that have been undertaken (and will be) as part of this project. We are working with and through a wide variety of partners.   
There are two components to the project. We are working to make the general public, with a focus on underserved groups, more aware of the skills needs, educational pathways to and opportunities in our sector. The other component is unique in a way, not something that we have necessarily had the means or the research to do in the past - it looks at skills matching and how we might provide opportunities to those currently working in other sectors.   
The Conference Board of Canada, in their 2021 publication “Modelling Job Transitions in Canada,” notes that given occupational outlooks, Canadian workers, employers and policy-makers need to find a way to enhance the available information about worker education, skills and experiences. Some workers facing diminishing prospects in their current jobs have the requisite background to move into growing and higher paying occupations. Other workers may need re-training. In either case, it is useful to identify new, promising job opportunities that are potentially open to Canadians – given their educational background, skill sets, abilities, knowledge, on-the-job experiences and current earnings. The Conference Board has developed a way to identify potential job transitions for Canadian workers considering a career change. Canadians need a better sense of how to capitalize on their current skills, education abilities, experience and knowledge. To this end they have developed a framework that identifies prospective job transitions to other work opportunities, based on one’s current skill set.
The Conference Board knows that many people who decide they want to change careers do not want to start their careers from scratch, take a big pay cut, or embark on a new career path that is facing decreasing employment prospects. In looking at this topic, the Conference Board identifies the two main criteria for potential job transitions as viability and desirability. A viable job is one that has similar requirements.  Viable jobs have similar skills, abilities, education and other job specific criteria. Viability depends foremost on how similar two occupations are – with similarity being a function of the likeness of the skills, abilities, education, tasks and experience that each job entails. A desirable job is one that an individual would want to move to from their current position. That means having a similar wage level and growing employment prospects. It moves someone in to an occupation that has a positive employment outlook. Transitioning to occupations with positive growth prospects ensures some stability and growth potential in the new position. There would be limited value in recommending someone transition into a new role which is facing a long-term decline.  
Similarity scores can identify potential job transitions. The Conference Board has developed a methodology to calculate similarity scores, which measure how comparable jobs are one to the other. They can also compute similarity scores for education and experience. There is lots of data, science and math that has gone in to the comparability calculations and methodology. It is too involved for me to try to explain here (if I could). It is not perfect, but it is perhaps the best they have right now and something that will be adjusted and refined as more data etc. becomes available. From all of this mapping work comes a comprehensive database covering 450 occupations that lists matches between an initial occupation and other jobs that are prospective transitions.  
One of the useful properties of their calculation method is that values come in between zero and one, allowing the potential range of similarity scores to be easily interpreted. Job pairings – or prospective transitions - receive a score between 0 (totally disparate skill requirements) and 1 (the exact same ratio of required skills needed for the job). Again, with lots of thought and research, The Conference Board felt it best to choose a similarity score of 0.85 as the threshold for viable job transitions. Of the four criteria, two for viability and two more for desirability, all need to be satisfied for an occupation to be a potential transition. In other words, potential transitions have job similarity scores of 0.85 or higher, are in similar job groups, are expected to have rising employment over the next 10 years and pay at least 90 percent of the earnings in the initial occupation.  
The skills matching (and education matching) is a comparison of the listed skills and competencies (and educational requirements) for the occupations that are part of the National Occupational Classification (NOC) database. It lets you see what occupations are comparable to those in the woodworking sector and suggests where the wood industry might look (in other sectors) for potential employees. One of the good general examples of this that was provided was that of the insurance industry needing adjusters.  After doing the skills matching, they identified that admin assistants had many of the skills that insurance adjusters require and that with a little training, admin assistants could transition into those roles. That would, at least to me, seem to be career advancement and maybe there are opportunities out there for the woodworking sector to find similar examples for people that might look our way.   
To give you an example of the data the WMC received from the skills/education matching research (from the Conference Board of Canada): The closest skills matching for the cabinetmaker occupation included: aircraft assemblers and aircraft assembly inspectors; metalworking and forging machine operators; residential and commercial installers and servicers; other products assemblers, finishers and inspectors; mechanical assemblers and inspectors. The closest matching from strictly an education perspective, again for the cabinetmaker occupation, included underground mine service and support workers; mining and quarry supervisors; other small engine and small equipment repairers; contractors and supervisors, heavy equipment; boat assemblers and inspectors etc. Some of this might be intuitive and some might not. We will continue to use this information in our on-going recruiting efforts.         
On the broader recruitment and awareness component of the project, industry members and associations have partnered with us to update and create career awareness materials, including brochures, web materials, career profiles, videos, testimonials etc. People have been very generous in providing expertise, photography/video, support, organization, time, access to their networks etc.. They have hosted training programs, offered job placements and employment opportunities. People have made presentations at career and recruitment events,  they have offered plant tours, used WMC materials in their own recruitment efforts and we have worked together on the job board WOODWORKINGJOBS.CA, career and job fair events.  
The post-secondary educators in woodworking have presented on their programs and our industry to such audiences as school boards, teachers, students, career seekers etc. They too have assisted in updating and creating career awareness materials, providing amongst other things their expertise, images, support/organisation/time/networks etc.. They have also offered tours of their facilities, invited people to meetings to gather input from Industry (Program Advisory Committees and other group meetings). They have also hosted and participated at meetings/discussions between post-secondary educators on programs, issues, challenges. We have had some good participation from employment agencies, career centres and community groups, who are eager to find opportunities for their constituents and clients. They have helped in the distribution of career awareness materials, welcomed in-person visits to outline wood careers and to recruit their clients into our training programs. They have organized and hosted on-line sessions with employment counsellors, on-line recruiting sessions with clients (job seekers) to introduce them to woodworking careers and to inform them of our training programs, and they have had their career counsellors participate in our information sessions and local PD Day events. High schools - board reps, tech teachers, guidance counsellors etc., have also been really good partners in this effort. This project is funded by the Future Skills Centre.

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