By Mark Smith, National Director, WoodLINKS USA
Greetings WoodLINKS USA supporters, friends, teachers, and students.
WoodLINKS USA is alive and kicking. We have responded proactively to the recession, but have not changed our mission: to provide the wood industry with the necessary skilled workers to remain competitive. WoodLINKS USA encourages a cooperative big-brother approach between the woodworking industry and the education system.
Individual companies support the national office and or the local school program by providing advice, encouragement, materials, funding and opening doors to make students and teachers aware of the technologies and processes being used today.
This big brother approach between industry and education is the key element. Companies complain that many high school graduates and even college graduates need remedial âreadinessâ training. That is why WoodLINKS USA is so important to the woodworking industry. By partnering together with your local school, you can have direct input into implementing workforce readiness initiatives that will prepare entrants before they enter your workplace.
What can industry do right now to help develop a future skilled workforce? Here are a few ideas.
1. Partner with your local school and build partnerships with teachers. (See page 26 or call WoodLINKS USA at 217-253-3239.)
2. Form an advisory committee for curriculum and equipment.
3. Meet with the students; talk about careers in the wood industry.
4. Give plant tours and provide speakers on wood related topics.
5. Conduct mock employment interviews.
6. Offer in-plant work experience.
7. Set up a booth at the school career day.
8. Mentor a student.
9. Assist with student certification.
10. Host school awards ceremonies.
11. Donate materials and supplies.
12. Contribute financial support.
13. Sponsor contests.
14. Invite students to an industry fair.
15. Provide technical support with student projects.
16. Host a local teacher in-service day at your facility.
17. Provide funding to support the national office.
Another great example of wood industry and education cooperation was the August IWF 2010 WoodLINKS USA Teacher In-Service. Teachers were exposed to the latest and greatest that the wood industry has to offer, attending industry driven seminars, networking with industry professionals and other teachers, and walking the show floor to learn about the newest equipment and materials. The event inspired teachers to develop new tools and ideas to positively influence students towards wood industry careers.
Call me at 217-253-3239 to join in this important work.
Connect with WoodLINKS by visiting woodlinksusa.org
How WoodLINKS Launched
Wilf Torunski, a Canadian native, was instrumental in bringing the WoodLINKS program to the United States in the mid-nineties. In 2001, Torunski was named WoodLINKS USAâs first national director, after bringing the program from Canada to he United States.
Since then, WoodLINKS USA has expanded to more than 16 states with approximately 110 high school and post-secondary sites. If it werenât for Torunski and others, WoodLINKS would not have achieved the success it has over the past years.
Torunski and his wife Donna currently live in Nova Scotia. He was recently interviewed by Wisconsin WoodLINKS Coordinator Steve Ehle to provide some background and perspective to the WoodLINKS program.
Ehle: How was WoodLINKS established?
Torunski: While I was with Industry Canada - a Federal Government department with offices in Vancouver BC, I was quite active in national wood industry working groups involved with industrial development and competitiveness issues. It was clear that a key Canadian weakness in the secondary wood industry was the lack of a national education, training and recruitment strategy designed to make the wood industry more competitive. Ultimately, our work lead to the formation of the Canadian Wood Industry Sector Council under which, WoodLINKS Canada, now resides.
Ehle: What was the goal of the United States WoodLINKS?
Torunski: In 2001, we were asked to replicate the Canadian program in as many U.S. states that had the existing education structures, industry support and willingness to do so in a cost-effective manner. At the beginning, we found four school areas that had heard about WoodLINKS Canada.
I was invited to become the first national director reporting to a board that was representative of industry and education members. In order to exhibit an industry drive to the program, the president had to be an industry representative. The USDA Forest Service at its Education Center in Princeton, WV provided administrative support and office space.
Ehle: What were some of the major challenges? Funding?
Torunski: Our major challenges were related to finding industry and education champions to help spread the word about the program. What a joy it was to see WoodLINKS schools winning national design competitions at the AWFS. The trade journals were so helpful in promoting regional and national success stories. One had to remember that educators did not believe that the wood industry had an effective education program. We were desperate for success stories.
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