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Promoting wood careers – my favorite task

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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
One of the most enjoyable parts of my work at the WMC over the years has been making more people in Canada aware of careers in wood manufacturing. We have been fortunate over the past several years to be able to participate in a number of educator events, where we get to meet woodworking and tech teachers, school board reps, guidance counselors and co-op coordinators, outside of the busy confines of their schools. This allows for an opportunity to spend some focused time with them to discuss their needs and interests, as well as their challenges and realities.  Whether in a presentation format or at a booth or tabletop, we have been able to connect with a great many teachers about careers in woodworking and the educational pathways to those careers.

On behalf of the WMC, the Conference Board of Canada undertook our labour-market study “Advanced Wood Manufacturing Sector: Human Resources Trends and Issues Survey.” An important and understandable conclusion is that the success of the sector depends on its ability to maintain a strong and stable workforce. Under the Strategies for Success section - Marketing and Engagement Strategies, it suggests that the sector improve youth engagement strategies in primary and secondary schools. Increasing young students’ awareness of and interest in the woodworking sector is key. The Wood Manufacturing Council’s (WMC) various project committees, comprised of industry representatives, educators and association staff, have over time, developed a number of useful items and tools that can assist, educate, save time and respond to the needs of teachers and their students. This study is available on our website and provides everyone with credible third party, independent research to support initiatives and any government funding requests you might be making.

In my last column, I mentioned a good number of initiatives we have undertaken alone and collectively to spread the word. Travelling the country and visiting firms, we continually become aware of many great efforts and by individual firms and the trade associations to engage kids and expose them to our sector. Working with schools on bringing in co-op students, offering plant tours and making classroom presentations, are just some of the ways firms are reaching out and establishing relationships with high schools locally. This takes time and resources, but it is very important work being done. The reality is though that small and busy firms cannot always dedicate the time they would like to this task, so that is where WMC can assist.

Over time, and especially in the last nine month, WMC has worked with interested volunteers to develop (and developing) materials that can support this outreach and promote career awareness and learning. Included in these tools will be a series of occupational profiles that we can make available to students, their teachers and their guidance departments. We are working on video profiles, which will be very useful, as well as paper-based versions. These profiles are being generated from interviews facilitated by firms across the country, with their employees in some cases doing the filming on their own. The positions and individuals profiled highlight, among other things, what their jobs entail, what led them to the woodworking industry, what their educational background and/or personal experience and interests are, what skills are needed for their positions, why they enjoy their jobs, what traits might help people to succeed in the woodworking business, career paths they have taken or they envision for themselves and advice for those thinking of a career in wood. Familiar messages include that people don’t fully know about all their options in terms of positions and skills that the woodworking business need from their employees - and that while new people might start out at the bottom, they can work their way up in this industry. That is a real great thing – the fact that employers are welcoming and willing to train, regardless of one’s experience level, if the employees are willing to learn and are patient.    

We continue to use our newest career information brochure extensively at events. It encourages people to get started on building a solid career in wood. It outlines our industry’s product mix, talks about some of the environmental benefits of wood and highlights the many educational pathways into our industry, from school to work, to apprenticeship, colleges and university training. It talks about working with your hands through to the skills needed to run technology and of the wide variety of position available and skills needed. When we first developed a career brochure 20 years ago, it was a missing piece nationally to collectively provide career awareness and we were pleased to draw on the expertise of many industry reps and educators to develop it and hone it over time.

 

WoodLINKS
WoodLINKS, a program of the Wood Manufacturing Council, is a 240-hour (usually 120 introductory, 120 advanced) certificate program for teaching industrial woodworking to (typically) Grade 11 and 12 students. The teacher can determine what grades they wish to teach it in. The WoodLINKS curriculum provides teachers with a valuable tool for preparing students for careers in the wood industry. It prepares students in both work readiness and wood manufacturing competencies. Teachers select a sub-sector module in one of 10 disciplines (millwork, furniture, manufactured housing, windows and doors, fine woodworking etc). By choosing a sub-sector that reflects the make-up of local industry, the schools can provide additional training to their students that suit the needs of companies nearby.

The WoodLINKS 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. This industry-recognized and supported program 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 for passing the WoodLINKS program. Participating high schools receive the testing, curriculum, reference materials along with access to free or discounted supplies for their shops. Wood manufacturers are very interested in getting more entry-level workers with some good basic skills and knowledge of the industry. Manufacturers and suppliers believe in the ability of WoodLINKS to meet their need for entry-level workers who come into their workplaces with a good working knowledge of the industry.

Essential skills (ES) assessment documents
WMC, with the active participation of industry and educators, created a series of essential skills (ES) assessment documents that can be used to support education and training efforts. These essential skills assessment documents not only serve our pre-employment training programs across the country, and assist industry, but they have proven to be highly popular and welcome additions to high school woodworking classrooms and in our pre-employment training programs. They are picked up regularly by teachers and give them wood specific problems to provide their students - practical examples of issues or situations they may encounter if they were working in the industry. The assessments have various levels of questions that increase in complexity. They allow teachers to combine industry learning while focusing on the skills that are needed for high school and to enhance, as the definition goes, the basic skill sets needed for work, learning and life. There are answer guides for the teachers, so they help save time, provide them with a bank of questions that are specific to the subject matter they are teaching and provide a progression of increasingly challenging questions, all while providing an opportunity to teach and enhance the students foundational skills.  Embedding these essential skills training into the woodworking courses makes it more interesting for the students. That is what we hear from their teachers. Our ES materials provide wood-specific instruction to help students read text, work with documents, write, and do the simple math, amongst other things. We can provide the Essential Skills documents, or other supports, to you, to pass on to your local school. Simply email wmc@wmc-cfb.ca and we will provide them to you.

Post-secondary pathways
WMC, in partnership with others in the woodworking sector, has been part of a unique opportunity in Ontario to offer high school woodworking teachers, administrators and guidance/career staff the chance to meet post-secondary educators and industry for a day of information about the wood processing sector. These complimentary one-day events have been held at colleges across Ontario. We provide the high school representatives with information on our sector’s skills needs, career opportunities and the educational pathways to those careers. We talk about value-added wood industry demographics, key and emerging occupations, skills needs and gaps, apprenticeship and employment opportunities. The days can include guest speakers from the industry and the various post-secondary education programs available in the province. Often the teachers get to work in the shop, building a project, or testing their skills on a simulator (such as a virtual spray machine) or seeing technology demonstrations. They also have had an opportunity to see college-level students working on their projects and engage with them.

The key to these events is the opportunity for the teachers to interact with industry and post-secondary educators, to create on-going relationships. The colleges and their people have made these events tremendously valuable as informational and woodworking community-building events.

These sessions provide the host school the opportunity to showcase their institution and their programs, allowing time for tours, technology demonstrations, learning/instruction and time on the equipment for the teachers. Each event is unique and customized, based on the desires of the host programs, so they can maximize the value to the teachers given the environment, facilities etc. Demonstrations and presentations by current students and by recent graduates, who come with information on what they learned, how they are applying it in industry and how the programs they followed influenced their career choices and specific interests has been one of the most important components of these events. To hear from those who have been through, and benefited for learning about and joining the woodworking sector is key.

The post-secondary schools provide details on their program and related costs and student support programs. There are always plenty of questions for all and the resulting discussion with teachers has been wide ranging, from scholarships, to such topics as mental-health issues, essential skills and literacy concerns, exposure to employers, placement rates and beyond. There is always acknowledgment of the individuals who volunteer on program advisory committees and the contributions and participation they receive from industry suppliers, with equipment and supplies prevalent in all the schools’ shops. Getting high school teachers to bring their students to the institutions so the kids themselves can see the facilities first hand is also welcome and happens often. These visits are often combined with plant tours to enhance the experience.

In 2023 we held one of these events in Barrie, Ont., with Georgian College being our gracious hosts. We had Georgian, Conestoga, Humber and Mowhawk, as well as UBC, present on their programs and Mike Baker from the Wood Manufacturing Cluster of Ontario present on our industry, trends and challenges. We finished the day by taking the teachers on a tour at Springwater Woodcraft.  

Promoting woodworking careers to Canadians is a big task and we are here to do our part and to work collectively with others. These products and tools will certainly make a contribution to that effect.

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