I’ve seen a lot of changes over my nearly 25 years covering the wood products industry.

The CNC technology we nearly take for granted today was emerging from punch tape programs, green was a color and not a socio-economic-political movement and China was a non-entity in U.S. furniture trade.

One issue that remains as timely today as it was when I joined Wood & Wood Products in 1985 is the recruitment, training and retaining of skilled employees. I’ve witnessed several efforts to address this conundrum. (Anyone else remember the Institute for Woodworking Education?) Then there’s WoodLINKS USA, which is trying to preserve vocational woodworking programs at high schools at high schools while promoting woodworking as a career path.

A more recent movement comes courtesy of the Woodwork Career Alliance. Its mission: “to reward the workforce while helping to sustain and grow the woodworking industry.”

Two Cornerstones
The WCA has been spearheaded from its inception in 2007 by the Architectural Woodwork Institute. Sponsoring partners of the program include the U.S. Forest Service, Woodworking Machinery Industry Assn., the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America, the Association of Woodworking & Furniture Suppliers and WoodLINKS USA. Other partners include more than a half dozen regional AWI chapters and Fox Valley Community College.

The two major cornerstones of this effort are skill standards and credentialing of those standards.
Last year, The WCA introduced its first publication of industry-approved Standards of Tool Skills and Evaluations. According to the WCA’s Web site, these standards are designed ”to serve as a comprehensive, industry-accepted compilation of operational procedures by which to measure performance and results produced by woodworking professionals. It includes a voluntary assessment program that allows woodworkers to demonstrate their competency in in-plant woodworking skills.

”As the woodworker learns and masters the techniques at the basic level, a clear path is indicated for increased skill in each tool operation. Experienced woodworkers must pass dozens of tests to demonstrate their accumulated skills against a consistent industry standard.”

These measurable skill standards establish goals for workers to strive for and provides employers with benchmarks to incentivize employee growth.

The credentialing portion of the WCA’s efforts would provide a woodworker with a “Woodwork Passport “ a “portable, personal, permanent records of their achievements as a professional.” A woodworker would be able to accumulate an array of “tool stamps” validating his tool operation level proficiencies throughout his career. This would help him (or her) market his/her skills for new career opportunities in wood products operations throughout North America.

Much Work Done, Much More to Do
The WCA has developed measurable standards for 12 tools groups, covering 30 tools and machines. This includes sawing, CNC, shaping and sanding. The group is working on 30 more tools this year and has its eyes on developing skill standards for more than 100 tools all told.

If you are among the majority of woodworking executives who worry about where your next good hire will come, I urge you to learn more about the WCA and its skill standards. Better yet, get involved. The WCA welcomes experts from woodworking companies, industry suppliers and other interested parties to participate in the skills development process.

The ultimate success of the WCA will not be on how many skills standards it develops but by how many North American woodworking companies recognize and use them.

I urge you to learn more about how the WCA can help you and how you can help the WCA at woodworkcareer.org.

Help secure your company's future and the future of the industry.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.