Do you know about WoodLINKS USA? I hope that you do. If you don’t, let me introduce you.

My buddy Dave is the Regional Director for WoodLINKS in the Pacific Northwest. He and I go way back. In fact, we go back farther than we even knew at the beginning. We came to find out that before we met face to face, we walked the same college campus during the same years.

Now, 30 years later, Dave and I have both left public school teaching. But you can take the teacher out of the class but you can’t take the class out of the teacher! In Dave’s case, he now works to promote WoodLINKS. And because he’s “retired,” I get to see quite a bit of Dave including at WoodLINKS events on the regional and national levels. He’s been to the AWFS Fair and IWF a number of times. Both events support and involve WoodLINKS.

WoodLINKS promotes cooperation on many levels between industry and education. That being said, the group focuses specifically on connections between junior and senior high school woodshop teachers and industry.

Why WoodLINKS Matters
Why??? Well, Mr. or Ms. woodworking business owner, where are you finding the qualified workers that you need to man your shop and do the level of work that you expect? Good cabinetmakers don’t just fall off of any old turnip truck that rolls through town. Those of you involved in hiring know exactly what I mean.

There has to be a really special turnip truck out there somewhere. And I’ll bet you anything that if you find it, the guy driving that truck is going to be the local woodshop teacher.

But school programs such as this are becoming a rare commodity in these days of tight school budgets and years of reduction in force needed to protect the “core curriculum” while balancing an ever-shrinking budget. I know all about that. You see, Dave and I met back in the '70s when things were quite different. I was the choir director and Dave was the new woodshop teacher. I loved woodworking and he loved singing. It was a match made in heaven. He’d help me with rehearsals during his prep period; I’d help him with whatever I could. We’re still helping each other all that we can today. Here I am, writing an article about another one of Dave’s passions. But the choral program and the woodshop program just aren’t the same today as they were then…trust me. That’s true.

Again, you, the shop owner, need to know about WoodLINKS. You have a need for workers trained in the art form known as cabinetmaking.  You need both talented and trained employees. Likewise, the teacher in your town needs to know that there are well paying careers out there for kids who become trained in…shall I say…Industrial Arts?

Let me illustrate my point.  Back in the days when Dave and I taught together, right next door to Dave’s shop was another buddy named Jim who taught metals. Jim’s kids left his program knowing how to weld with the best of them. Likewise, they could make shavings on a milling machine or a lathe like nobody’s business. They were well qualified as entry-level people in the metals trades. I know because one of those students was one of my children. Eryn began a career as a machinist because of Jim and his teaching.

Dave’s students were the same way. They left Dave’s class with some really good skill sets.I used to hire some of them for weekend jobs that required helpers for what I was doing in the cabinet industry.

How to Get Involved
So what can you do to promote WoodLINKS In your community?

That question requires some really hard questions in return.

  • Is there a woodshop program in your local high school?
  • How about the junior high?
  • Do you knowthe teacher(s) there?
  • Can you go over one day after school and meet them?

Ask them about WoodINKS and encourage them to get involved. But first, involve yourself by doing some research at woodlinksusa.org.

In closing, I met a couple of weeks ago to help plan the annual Washington-Oregon October Teacher In-Service offering. That’s coming up on Friday, October 12.

All of you Oregon and Washington shop teachers, don’t miss this opportunity to network with other woodshop teachers and meet industry professionals willing to help you. It will be a day for you to learn, exchange, and to build relationships. Those relationships have already paid off in our area.  They can grow from seed to full bloom in your area too.  It just takes a little cultivation and fertilizer.

I am calling all of you who read my column to do some cultivating and fertilizing in your own back yards this school year. It is perfectly possible that next year there could be a teacher in-service day of some kind in your area that encourages cooperation at a number of levels between school shop programs and industry. Please go out there and do some digging and make things happen.

Until next time…spray on!

Editor's note: Catch Bernie Bottens speaking on profitable wood finishing at Wood Tech Summit, October 22-23, 2012 in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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