The Woodwork Career Alliance’s skill standards offer a “common language” for training woodworking instructors to do their jobs better.
Gerry Quarton, the newest chief evaluator of the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America, is bringing the WCA’s skill standards and training to woodworking instructors serving some of the most remote populations of North America.
Quarton is a trades educational consultant contracted by Yukon Department of Education to update curriculums and improve safety at school woodshops throughout Yukon, a vast Canadian territory typified by rugged mountains and high plateaus. The Yukon covers more than 180,000 square miles and, according to Canada’s 2016 census, has a population of only 35,874, 25,085 of whom live in Whitehorse, the territory’s capital.
“The Yukon is still a bit of a frontier lifestyle to a large degree,” says Quarton, who was born in LLoydminster, AB, but has lived and taught woodworking in the territory on and off since the 1970s.
A Man on a Mission
in 2013, the Yukon Department of Education hired Quarton to spearhead projects to increase awareness of careers in the trades. In addition to lending his expertise to improve woodworking shops, Quarton has organized school welding and hair dressing programs. “In the case of woodworking, my first goal was to make sure the shops were safe. I found that many of the machines in the rural schools were 30 years or older. One of the first things we did was to replace table saws with SawStops.”
Quarton notes, “There are three levels of woodshops in the Yukon. There are the urban ones at bigger schools in Whitehorse that have regular shop teachers. Then there are other schools like in Dawson City and Watson Lake where you have a somewhat bigger population and a woodshop taught by a teacher who has some training. Then we have a bunch of rural schools where the total student population from K to 12 might be 20 or 30. It’s harder to fill those woodshop positions because the teachers also have to teach two or three academic subjects. I’m using the WCA standards to create a common language and standard operating procedures to benefit all of these programs.”
Before taking the consulting job, Quarton was the woodworking instructor at F.H. Collins High School in Whitehorse for 10 years. He has also been actively involved with Skills Canada, currently as president of Skills Canada Yukon, and for many years as a member of the national technical committee and judge of the annual Skills Canada cabinetmaking competition.
Through his role with Skills Canada, Quarton got to know Mick McGowan, a woodworking instructor at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary, AB, who is also on the Skills Canada technical committee and is a chief evaluator of the WCA. That connection led to conversations and meetings with Greg Heuer, secretary of the WCA.
“I was already familiar with the WCA because we’ve been using the Modern Cabinetmaking textbook for several years and the newest edition has the WCA logo on the cover.” Quarton says. “The whole tie-in with the text book is a real fit with using the WCA standards and credentialing program.”
Teaching the Teachers
Last October, Quarton conducted a two-day professional development workshop in Whitehorse attended by 15 woodworking teachers with a wide range of experience levels, including one from north of the Arctic Circle. The first day focused on measuring and layout. Day two was devoted to the safe operation of table saws and other standard machines based on the WCA Skill Standards.
Quarton followed that workshop with a second training session for eight of the rural school instructors in Dawson City. “It’s a repetitive activity,” Quarton says. “I like to talk about it, show them how to do it, ask them to show me how they do it and then show me again.”
Each of the 15 instructors who attended the fall 2018 workshop was awarded the WCA Sawblade Certificate. Quarton’s next goal is to train them so that they can earn their Green Credentials. For those who are successful, Quarton would like to help them achieve the Blue Credential. In addition, Quarton hopes to introduce the WCA credentialing program to high school students in the future.
“I’ve been shocked by how much the teachers keep asking for more. They are doing this voluntarily; it’s not a term of their employment.” Quarton says. “Some of these teachers are teaching science in the morning and instructing woodworking in the afternoon. They have a really wide range of interests and skill sets. I applaud them for their ability to do many things and do them as well as they can.”