Wood Manufacturing Council promotes woodworking careers

Across Canada companies that depend on employing workers trained with woodworking skills have stepped up efforts to provide resources to encourage more students to consider a career in wood manufacturing as well as provide curriculum for schools and teachers. Efforts are coordinated by the Wood Manufacturing Council (WMC), a non-profit corporation started in 2002 to bring together people in the public and private sectors to focus on human resources and skills development in what’s called “advanced wood processing” (companies making furniture, cabinets, windows and doors, millwork and building components).

Woodworking students at Ottawa course in fall 2020.
Woodworking students at Ottawa course in fall 2020.

While much of the WMC focus is on companies, activities related to woodworking education include:

  • Career information materials to interest people in considering career opportunities in the sector.
  • Management training program run online with 10 wood industry-specific modules including new product development, business finance and green marketing. People can take one or more module.
  • Professional development days for high school teachers (when possible) held at colleges with cabinetmaking programs to familiarize teachers with post-secondary programs.
  • Woodworking class visits to wood manufacturing plants.
  • Pre-employment training across Canada to get people skilled up for entry level positions in the industry.
A scene from before the pandemic: High school teachers learning about basic stair construction.

Essential skills

Because workers come to the industry with a wide range of backgrounds and varying aptitudes for some tasks, WMC created a standard set of evaluation tools that use wood-specific examples to assess the best fit for someone. These provide a standard approach to evaluating the essential skills of numeracy, reading text, thinking and using documents.

There are different levels of complexity in the assessment tools to reflect the varying needs and abilities of the learners. Questions are based on what would be encountered in a wood-manufacturing business – in the office or on the plant floor – to teach and enhance these critical basic skills. There can be self-assessment by students or formal testing by instructors is available. This material is available at wmc-cfb.ca.

Employers use these materials for training staff or evaluating prospective employees. Hobby woodworkers and small businesses may also use the tools at Essentials Skills Assessment.

The WoodLINKS program provides a high school curriculum for woodworking to school boards and teachers across Canada. Started in the 1990s by the wood industry in British Columbia and the BC provincial government, WMC took over the program in 2006. When the pandemic forced high school teachers to switch from in-person instruction to online instruction, WMC created a password-protected site for instructors to gain access to core curriculum as well as specific sector modules for their students.

WoodLINKS can lead to industry-recognized certification of graduates. During the COVID pandemic the WMC provides participating instructors with access to the Core and the Sub-Sector Module Curriculum documents, as well as all the chapters of the WoodLINKS Study Guides.

Core curriculum covers 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.

Traditionally, WoodLINKS is a flexible 240-hour (120 Introductory-level, 120 Advanced-level) certificate program for teaching industrial woodworking to grade 11 and 12 students. Teachers determine what grades they wish to teach it in. The program offers students theoretical knowledge and hands-on skills acquired through the completion of exercises, class projects, using tools and other activities.

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 apply 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 their school.

To help teachers tailor their instruction to specific local industry sectors, there are modules in `10 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 modules extend the core curriculum to better prepare students for opportunities in their community.

The WMC also sponsors the education subscriptions provided by Canadian Woodworking and Home Improvement to deliver complimentary issues of the magazine to eligible instructors and students.

More woodworkers in their shops because of pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted all countries for the past year is a challenge for most people. In February 2019 we conducted a short survey to find out how COVID-19 was impacting woodworkers.

Our survey showed that 49% of the 796 respondents are spending more time in their shops while 28% are spending about the same as before. Some 20% of respondents are reporting less shop time because of the the colder weather and unheated shops.

We asked people to indicate if they had been woodworking for 7 years or less, 8 to 20 years or more than 20 years. The ratio of responses to time in the workshop were similar for all three groups, except for those under 7 years woodworking – 11% of that group said they didn’t have a shop or weren’t woodworking.

“During this trying time, I am really glad that I had my shop to keep me occupied,” says one new woodworker. “Some of my friends have been restricted to their homes with nothing to do. The cabin fever has been extremely hard on them and it is not good for their mental health.”

“If anything the pandemic has re-ignited my love of woodworking,” says a woodworker of 20+ years. “It gave me the desire to DO SOMETHING and make some projects for my new apartment which i moved into just as covid hit. I’ve rediscovered working with hand tools, and learned how to use my power tools in new ways – thanks for a great magazine.”

Time spent in shop - Canadian Woodworking survey Feb 2021

How woodworkers get materials

We also asked about sourcing new tools, materials or lumber during the pandemic. As with many other goods, 30% say they had items shipped, 28% did curbside pickup and 27% said they waited until stores were open so they could shop in person. Not being able to secure items, especially lumber, was also reported by 11% of respondents

In the hundreds of comments, many expressed dismay about the sudden and steep increase in lumber prices.

“I have found it surprisingly easy to buy online with good results – even buying maple and walnut boards without seeing them until delivered,” says a respondent who calls himself a novice wood worker.

“I find the price of lumber is ridiculous,” says one.

“Lack of material availability has taught me to be more conscious of material waste and also recycling and repurposing materials,” says another.

“It’s been tough not being able to go into stores and browse products,” says a long-time woodworker. “Many retailers have online shopping but the websites don’t have a complete line of their inventory and the store’s search engines can be frustrating.”

Method for sourcing items - Canadian Woodworking survey Feb 2021

Time in the shop

On average, people say they spend 9 to 13 hours a week in the shop – but there is a big range from 16% who are in the shop for 2 hours or less a week to 8% spending more than 31 hours a week in the shop. Woodworkers were precise – 1 hour, 2 hour, 3 hour, etc – but we grouped the ranges in the chart to give an idea of the spread. In comments, cold weather was cited for time not in the shop.

Hours in the shop - Canadian Woodworking survey Feb 2021
Couple in shop

Profile of the responders

About half of those responding say they have been woodworking for 20 years or more. Another 25% grouped themselves in the 8 year to 20 year segment and 27% specified less than 8 years.

How many years woodworking - Canadian Woodworking survey Feb 2021

“The inability to do other outside activities has allowed me time to focus on getting my workshop properly organized,” says one long-time woodworker.

Draw for survey responders

To thank people for answering the survey, we provided an option for respondents to enter a draw for an Armour pocket hole jig. A random draw picked Ian D. of Hamilton, Ontario, as the winner.

April/May 2021 issue focuses on impact drivers

The impact driver is one of the most sought-after power tools on the market today. We have several features on these powerful tools in the April/May 2021 issue of Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement (now in the mail to subscribers and on newsstands March 15).

With loads of torque for driving large fasteners, impact drivers help on nearly every project, especially on the home improvement side of things.

We take a close look at why you need an impact driver, introduce you to a wide range of impact-ready accessories, review five impact driver kits for under $200 and take a deep dive into three different types of impact drivers available in Canada.

We’ve also included lots of other articles for you. The modern sliding door bookcase pictured on our cover offers storage and strong visual appeal, and our regular Top 10, Know Your Tools, Canadian Quotes, Wood Science and Beginner’s Journey columns offer fun and informative reading. We’ve even included another free Workshop Poster, this time discussing the impacts of moisture on wood, and how you can determine the moisture level of the solid wood in your shop.