By Steve Ehle, WoodLINKS USA


 
WoodLINKS forms a parntership with industry, educators and students, providing woodworking
industry career advancement. At the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta, WoodLINKS
students from five schools participated in an RTA furniture competition, and interacted with
private sector manufacturers. 


In the face of a still critical shortage of skilled personnel entering the wood industry, WoodLINKS USA was established as a partnership between industry and education. Today, after more than a decade of service in the United States, WoodLINKS provides a leading woodworking industry training program for students at all levels.

There is a paradigm shift taking place between employers and employees. Companies need personnel with a greater variety of skills and knowledge. They expect employees to begin contributing from their first day on the job.

At the same time, employees are seeking jobs that offer greater challenges, more flexibility and more enhanced opportunities for advancement. For employers, finding quality employees that are ready to contribute can be difficult. In some areas in the manufacturing sector, this task can be especially difficult.

The wood manufacturing industry, from high production operations to custom shops, is realizing the critical importance of new and advanced technologies. They’re also realizing the need for a well-prepared entry-level group of employees. That’s where WoodLINKS comes into play.

The wood industry has a significant image problem. The impression among some, including young people, is that it is a low-skill, unrewarding employment opportunity with little hope for growth. Because of this, many talented, skilled students seek careers in other sectors.

WoodLINKS has a mission to help the wood products industry attract new, motivated employees who can hit the ground running on their first day of employment, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that the U.S. wood industry can remain viable and competitive in a global environment.

Broad range of goals
WoodLINKS USA National Program Director, Mark Smith, sums it up: “Cultivating partnerships between industry and schools so we can develop a skilled workforce for the future is our ultimate goal so we can remain competitive in a world market that waits for no one.”
WoodLINKS goals include:

• To create a greater awareness of the excellent opportunities and careers to be found in the wood manufacturing industry;

• To encourage the most skilled, the best and the brightest students to enter the WoodLINKS USA program;

• To provide schools with the current resources and curricula guidelines to meet the needs of the industry in their region;

• To offer the best in-service training opportunities for teachers to remain current with regional and national manufacturers;

• To promote scholarships, design competitions, national mentoring programs and summer skills camps.

• To provide a nationally-recognized certification program for students based on industry skill standards;

• To coordinate a national Masters Degree program for teachers;

• To develop regional partnerships with private industry and schools;

• To drive the development of national skill standards for students and the industry in general;

• To open doors for educators with industry supporters and trade associations;

• To organize state-level industry committees and support groups to establish regional wood manufacturing programs to train entry-level personnel; and

• Encourage the direct involvement with teachers and the private sector, so students are made more aware of the “real world” of wood manufacturing.

Smith says the bottom line goal is to serve the industry with an eye on helping young people gain a foothold in a solid career in woodworking.

“Our in-the-field research shows that each WoodLINKS graduate that has been hired saved their new employer more than $6,000 in hiring and training costs,” says Smith. “That’s where the rubber meets the road when it comes to establishing industry partnerships with education and the private sector.”

Curriculum guidelines
WoodLINKS provides curriculum guidelines for WoodLINKS teachers, based on industry needs and skill standards. The goal is to establish introductory and advanced manufacturing programs to produce skilled entry-level graduates for the wood industry. Since first introduced to schools in the United States, more than 100 schools have embraced to WoodLINKS program, while touching more than 6,000 students.

The certification program generally offers high school and post-secondary students with an opportunity to be tested and certified. WoodLINKS has developed nationally-recognized tests at two levels. The multiple-choice tests can be adapted to match regional industry needs. Students must successfully answer 70 percent of the questions. However, the ultimate “grade” is based primarily on the evaluation of the instructor.

Still, establishing a regional advisory council for schools is critical to WoodLINKS mission and success model.
“Our student certification program mirrors what the industry tells us is what they need in terms of knowledge and skills,” says Mark Roberts, WoodLINKS USA Vice President for Education. “Still, ultimately, the responsibility for establishing and tending an industry advisory council rests with the high school and post-secondary instructor.

“You’ll find support and help from business and other organizations, but the instructors must be the coordination part of the equation.”

WoodLINKS USA provides yearly teacher in-service opportunities at the two major wood industry trade shows, AWFS in Las Vegas and the Industrial Woodworking Fair in Atlanta. At the recent IWF, more than 30 teachers attended and were exposed to the latest in industry innovative manufacturing and software technology. WoodLINKS also offers plant tour opportunities for teachers and students. In Wisconsin alone, more than 30 WoodLINKS schools are active, including post-secondary institutions.
Besides secondary manufacturing instruction, WoodLINKS also offers a curriculum for teachers focusing on sustainable forest management. WoodLINKS Wisconsin received a grant from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board to develop a curriculum for sustainable forest management.

This course can be inserted into existing curricula for wood technology programs, and in general science classes as well. The curriculum has been reviewed by foresters and by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. It will shortly be made available to WoodLINKS schools across the United States, as well as non-WoodLINKS schools.

Partners with AWI
WoodLINKS is also a partner in the effort by the Architectural Woodwork Institute’s effort to develop National Skill Standards for the woodworking industry. The program has been spearheaded by a wide group of industry experts and educators.

The heart of the WoodLINKS effort is to provide industry-endorsed curriculum guidelines for the following areas and sectors:

• Entrepreneurship

• Remanufacturing

• Panelboard manufacturing and products

• Mass production of furniture

• Mass production of millwork and cabinets

• Custom manufacturing

• Windows and doors

• Fine woodworking

• Engineered wood products

• CNC technology

• Safety

“We’ve grown to the point where we touch nearly every sector and sub-sector of the wood industry,” says WoodLINKS USA executive director, Mark Smith. “That’s been our goal from the beginning and we’re continuing to evolve. Just like the private sector, we have a mission of making sure we are current and viable.”

Become involved
Woodworking businesses can help WoodLINKS cultivate the next generation of woodworkers in several ways:

• Work with local schools for tours, speaking

• Contribute through the University of Giving

• Launch a local WoodLINKS program
Visit WoodLINKSUSA.org to get started.

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