Standardizing Woodworking Skills: Is It Time?
A much-anticipated study regarding the potential for developing woodworking skill standards is being conducted via a grant from the USDA Forest Service to the Architectural Woodwork Institute.
By Katie Coleman
Sixty-nine of the 100 executives in Wood & Wood Products' 16th Annual WOOD 100 Report listed "employee recruitment/retention" and/or "employee skills" as one of their top three concerns. (See the August 2005 issue.)
For the better part of the last two decades, various wood industry associations have looked for a way to reverse that trend. One of the latest initiatives involves the potential creation of national woodworking skill standards.
In October 2004, the Architectural Woodwork Institute received a grant from the USDA Forest Service Wood Education and Resource Center to investigate creating National Wood Manufacturing Skill Standards. In announcing the grant award, Al Steele, interim director of the WERC, said, "Other industries which have developed skill standards report significant improvements in their ability to better target recruitment and training efforts. If skill standards can be developed and accepted by the woodworking community, overall skill levels in the workplace and the efficiency and effectiveness of woodworker training can be markedly improved."
Tim Longwell, a project manager with D.J. Case and Assoc. of Mischawaka, IN, a company specializing in natural resources communication, is spearheading the research project to investigate the feasibility and the pros and cons of woodworking skill standards.
"Association members have expressed an interest in both getting training for woodworkers and offering some kind of credential to those who complete the training," Longwell says. "In order to test competency, it is widely recognized that an established set of skill standards against which one could be tested would have to be in place."
Here, Longwell discusses the project and, specifically, a survey sent to key players in the industry to determine the wants and needs of woodworking professionals for developing skill standards.
At the beginning of the project, we asked ourselves, "Who should be involved?" The project team developed a list of more than 110 contacts from association staff members, educational institutions, companies and the industry press. A total of 53 individuals completed the questionnaire.
To date, we have focused our communication efforts with this group of "potentially engaged stakeholders." During the Woodworking Industry Leadership Forum (held July 26) before the AWFS Fair in Las Vegas, industry, education and association leaders reviewed the questionnaire and the list of industry contacts. Attendees and members on that list were asked if they knew of other individuals or organizations that may be interested and could contribute to the project.
On July 29, an e-mail announcement was sent to the individuals and organizations on this contact list announcing the opening of the questionnaire and asking them to complete it before Aug. 14.
The purpose of the original questionnaire was to help flesh out some of the important issues. When initiating a project, it is quite common to talk to experts in the field to help develop an initial understanding of the issues. In government and academia, they call these key informant surveys. The answers given by these key informants help to guide the development of a skill standards framework. Once the framework is established, the field is widened with comment invited from the broader woodworking community.
A facilitated discussion was held regarding the need to develop skill standards in the wood manufacturing industry, how these skill standards might be developed and the required next steps to produce consensus. Industry and education representatives unanimously confirmed that a strong need exists for skill standards in the wood industry and indicated that some of the critical next steps are:
Additionally, informal and formal discussions or presentations of the project were held during the 2004 International Woodworking & Machinery Supply Fair, the 2005 Wood Industry Conference and the 2005 AWFS Fair.
I think it is worthwhile to point out that this project ends with the development of the conceptual framework, identification of the funding options, etc. I can't speculate on when skill standards might be completed and enforced. This project is to see if skill standards are needed and wanted, to see if there is agreement on the broad outlines of what should be contained in skill standards, to see if there is agreement on who should develop skill standards and how such an effort would be governed and, at least in rough terms, how much skill standards development and operation would cost. In a sense, this project could be thought of as a feasibility study. That's it.
The "standards" themselves are the muscle or "meat on the bones." This specific skill and evaluation content will not be developed during this project.
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