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Presidents Message: Itching to Get Back Out

2021 will hopefully be a better year for all!  How can it be anything but?

We’re starting to see some signs of a return to normalcy. More students are returning to the classroom, if even for only a couple of days a week. The Woodwork Career Alliance enrolled 167 new candidates to the Passport credentialing program since the first of the year.

We’re very excited about our new online program for training accredited skill evaluators. By making this training more convenient for woodworking instructors, we’ll be able to grow the number of WCA EDUcation members able to administer the WCA Sawblade certificate to students. This in turn will help increase the number of students registered as Passport holders. You can read about the ASE online training program in this edition of Pathways.

I’m also very pleased to welcome Chris Hofmann, U.S. Lamello product manager for Colonial Saw, to the WCA Board of Directors. Chris brings a wealth of diverse industry experience, including serving as chair of the Woodworking Machinery Industry’s Education Committee.

 

With the pandemic lending a whole meaning to cabin fever, I suspect that I’m not the only one who looks forward to getting back to face-to-face networking events. The WCA will be participating at the 2021 AWFS Fair, July 20–23 in Las Vegas. If you attend the show, please be sure to visit us at booth #1979. WCA will also participate in the AWFS Fair’s educational programs. We will present a 2.5-hour workshop, “Building a Training Program for Your Workers” targeted for manufacturing HR managers, plant managers, plant superintendents, woodworking shop owners and other stakeholders. We’ll provide additional details, including the date and time of the presentation, when it becomes available.

Teachers of WCA EDUcation member institutions are invited to apply for one of the five $750 Financial Teacher Assistance Scholarships to defray costs to attend the AWFS Fair. Click this link to learn more and apply.

In closing, I would like to thank our EDUcation Partners:  Franklin International, Quickscrews International, Bessey Tools of America, Rockler, The Taunton Press Inc., Veneer Technologies Inc., Microvellum, CabWriter Software and Stiles Education for their support of the WCA’s EDUcation Essentials Benefit Package.

Scott Nelson
President
Woodwork Career Alliance of North America
snelson.wca@gmail.com

 

WCA’s New Online Accredited Skill Evaluator Training Opens Many Doors

As part of their online ASE training, candidates watch several short videos and make observations about what they see as right or wrong.

The Woodwork Career Alliance of North America’s online accredited skill evaluator (ASE) training program, which debuted last fall, is a game changer in more ways than one.

For starters, it paves the way for more high school and postsecondary woodworking instructors throughout the United States and Canada to attain ASE status. This in turn opens doors for more students to participate in woodworking programs that incorporate the WCA’s industry-recognized skill standards and credentialing program.

The ultimate beneficiary is the North American woodworking industry. Wood product companies of all sizes and types stand to gain an influx of talented young men and women who have been trained to safely and properly set up and operate equipment based on the WCA’s measurable performance objectives. And while the initial roll-out of the online training program is focused on educators, it will ultimately allow wood products companies to accredit their training personnel as WCA skill evaluators as well.

The Impact of Online Training
Up until now, ASE candidates were greatly limited to when and where the training programs were offered. For example, WCA has traditionally scheduled training at the AWFS Fair in Las Vegas and the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta. In recent years, several sessions have also been held at The MiLL in Colorado Springs.

One of the reasons Wisconsin has more schools with ASE instructors than any other state is because of the relative accessibility and frequency of training programs conducted by Patrick Molzahn. Molzahn is a WCA accredited chief evaluator and director of the cabinetmaking and millwork program at Madison Area Technical College.

Most instructors of high school and postsecondary woodworking programs are not as fortunate as their Wisconsin peers to have training classes scheduled within driving distance. In addition to the inconveniences of time and place, many instructors cannot afford the costs associated with traveling to a location to get their training to become an ASE. Without the ASE designation, they are unable to enroll their students into the WCA’s Passport credential program that includes evaluating and testing their students to earn a WCA Sawblade certificate and for more advanced woodworking students to work toward their Green credential.

The barriers that have limited instructors from pursuing their ASE status has also reduced opportunities for the WCA to grow its Passport credential program in schools throughout the United States and Canada. The situation became even more pronounced as the novel coronavirus pandemic largely put a kibosh on face-to-face training.

That Was Then; This Is Now
Greg Larson, vice president of the WCA, said the online ASE training program he was instrumental in helping to develop addresses most concerns.

“We were working on the ASE online training program long before the pandemic hit,” said Larson, who is also owner/director of the New England School of Architectural Woodworking. “We knew that we had to make it easier for more educators to take the training.”

“The biggest benefit for the candidate far and away is the ability to get trained anywhere in the world and at his own pace,” Larson said. “We’ve also added more material to the training session, so it’s more in-depth. Plus, the ASE manual is now the online training program. Anyone who is already an evaluator can get access to the training modules just by asking and use them as a reference or as a refresher whenever they want.”

While there certainly are trade-offs between live and online training, Larson said, “I think by far, the positives outweigh the negatives. I know some people will miss the live interaction with the trainer but on the upside we still get the opportunity to see them in action and have a more personal one-on-one interview with them than we could when we had a live session involving a half-dozen or so instructors at once.”

Staci Sievert, technical education teacher at Seymour High School of Seymour, WI, was among the first educators to take their ASE training online. She rated the training program as “excellent” and looked forward to putting her status as an ASE to use in the classroom. “The more we can get our students’ learning aligned with industry standards the better it will be both for the students and for industry,” she said. “All tech ed students can benefit from being certified as it means they have met benchmarks for taking accurate measurements and safely running equipment to industry standards.”

The ASE Online Training Program in a Nutshell
The process of becoming an ASE begins by an educational institution or woodworking company joining the WCA as an EDUcation or MANufacturing member respectively. Among the many perks of the $250 annual membership fee is a voucher for one free ASE training class.

Next, the candidate fills out and submits the online ASE application along with a current resume and two references who can attest to the candidate’s skill set.

Once qualified, the candidate takes the online ASE training course. It consists of 11 modules ranging from what an evaluator is and how WCA credentialing system works through an overview of the WCA’s Skill Standards and how to conduct an evaluation. After completing the 11th module, the candidate takes a quiz.

After passing the quiz, the candidate is tested on measurement operations, including using a tape measure and caliper. The candidate then video records him or herself performing the five tool operations that make up the Sawblade Certificate, including:

  • Jointer – Edge jointing first edge
  • Table Saw – Ripping
  • Table Saw – Edge rabbet/single blade or dado set
  • Portable Hand Sander – Sand solid lumber
  • Drill Press – Drill holes completely through material

The candidate’s video-recorded operations are reviewed by a WCA training coordinator, who also schedules an online meeting to talk to the candidate about his/her application and test results. In addition, the candidate is shown a series of short sample evaluation videos and asked to point out what’s right or wrong in each.

After being formally accepted as an ASE, the candidate views instructional videos about the WCA’s online registry where Passport holders’ credentialing records are maintained. The new ASE’s first official duty is to enter his or her Sawblade evaluation results in the registry.

Learn more about becoming a WCA accredited skill evaluator.

The Importance of WCA Skill Evaluators
Accredited skill evaluators are at the heart of the WCA’s Passport credentialing program. They evaluate the skills of candidates pursuing their credentials based on the WCA’s Skill Standards, recognized throughout the U.S. and Canada. The skill standards cover a wide range of woodworking equipment and operations from using a tape measure and basic layout to running a table saw and CNC router.

High school students enrolled in WCA EDUcation member woodworking programs are eligible to earn a Sawblade Certificate if their instructor is an ASE. In essence, the instructor evaluates a student on his or her use of a jointer, table saw, portable hand sander and drill press. Once the student has successfully completed those evaluations, the student is required to pass an online test to receive the Sawblade Certificate.

More advanced high school students can build on their Sawblade Certificate by striving for a Green credential, the first rung of the WCA’s credentialing program for woodworking professionals. To achieve Green, the student or professional must complete additional machinery evaluations and amass 800 hours of shop experience. Woodworking professionals can progress from Green to Blue, Red, Gold and Diamond.

The individual Passport holder’s achievements, accumulated as skill points, are recorded in the WCA’s online registry. The record of the Passport holder’s skillsets can come in handy when applying for a job within the woodworking industry.

The WCA’s credentialing program brings a new level of professionalism to the woodworking industry.

Metalworking, welding and automotive are among other trades that have developed credentialing programs to recruit, train and retain qualified candidates into their ranks.

 

 

 

WCA President Talks Training, Credentialing and More

The Woodwork Career Alliance of North America heads into the 2020s building on the solid foundation of its Passport credentialing program that is widely recognized throughout the United States and Canada.

In a recent free-wielding phone interview, Scott Nelson, president of the WCA, discussed the North American wood product industry’s ongoing challenge to recruit, train and retain skilled employees. He also provided his thoughts on how companies can use the WCA’s credentialing program to meet those multiple challenges and discussed plans for rolling out WCA 4.0 to accredit employees who work in manufacturing cells.

Rich Christianson: Since its inception in 2007, the Woodwork Career Alliance has developed more than 300 woodworking skill standards and grown its database of registered Passport holders to nearly 2,600. At long last, the woodworking industry has a credentialing program to rival metal working, automotive, welding and other skilled trades. With those accomplishments as a backdrop, what do you view as the WCA’s biggest achievement in 2019?

I am extremely gratified by the increased use of the WCA credentialing program.

Scott Nelson: I am extremely gratified by the increased use of the WCA credentialing program. Last year we added a record 507 new individual Passport members. Even more telling, we issued 418 credentials representing a 50 percent increase. It’s fantastic that we’re finally starting to see the number of new credentials approaching the number of people who are issued Passports. That means a greater percentage of Passport holders are being tested to the Skill Standar

Christianson: Who were these credentials issued to last year?

Nelson: The vast majority of the credentials were awarded to high school students for earning their Sawblade Certificate. But we’re also seeing a smaller, yet still healthy, increase in professional accreditations.

On the high school level, we’re seeing more woodworking teachers starting to test their kids. It’s one thing for instructors to just sign up their students for WCA Passports, but it’s another for them to take the time to administer the skill evaluations, record the individual student’s tool points and see that their qualified students take the online test to ultimately receive their Sawblade Certificate.

Christianson: Why do you think more high school woodworking instructors are making the effort to test their students now? What’s changed?

Nelson: First, I think more teachers are prioritizing evaluations and testing for the Sawblade Certificate as part of their lesson plans and schedules. It takes time to do any of those tests. They have to plan for it and until they’ve done it the first time, they really don’t know how long it takes. Once they become familiar with how it works and how long it takes, they are able to make it part of their day-to-day curriculum.

Second, we’ve seen a lot of credentialing activity in Wisconsin where public high school programs qualify for special funding based on national certification, which is what the WCA is all about. Colorado also is putting this type of government reimbursement program in place, again based on being affiliated with a recognized certification organization like the WCA. These funds are very important for supporting those high school programs and keeping them viable in an era when woodworking programs are more likely to be reduced or eliminated than improved or started. Hopefully we’ll see more states adopt this type of funding model in the next few years.

In some ways, we’re in a race against time. On one hand, I think more and more schools are realizing the benefit of being an EDUcation member of the WCA. It brings structure and additional legitimacy to being part of a program that was created with industry needs in mind. Unfortunately, while we gained nearly 30 new high school programs last year, we lost a similar number. In most cases, the program is no longer there. A lot of times the woodshop teacher leaves or retires and the school can’t find a replacement because most require industrial arts teachers to have a teaching certificate. There just aren’t enough teachers with woodworking experience to fill the gaps.

Christianson: You mentioned that WCA has made inroads among woodworking professionals. How so?

It takes a dedicated effort to create an effective formal training program. But once it’s in place, it can be used over and over again. There’s a long-term payoff.

Nelson: Getting industry participation has been a tough nut to crack, but we are making gains as attested by the 54 green credentials we issued in 2019. Our first challenge has been to make industry aware of the WCA credentialing program and how they can use it to develop in-house training programs for new and current employees. Then, companies have to be willing to put in the time. Every plant has a different set of circumstances so consequently there has to be a champion in each plant for it to work. It takes a dedicated effort to create an effective formal training program. But once it’s in place, it can be used over and over again. There’s a long-term payoff.

A common concern among woodworking companies is the fear of “If I train them, they’ll leave.” That’s a big problem for the industry and the WCA. They are afraid to spend the time and money to train somebody, give him a credential and then maybe see that person go work for the shop next door for more money. That’s human nature and they have to get over that.

Companies also have to understand that they may not have the right opening for someone who has acquired new skill sets from their training but the other company might have an opening. So, the employee is going to leave for a better opportunity. That’s just the way it is.

Christianson: How can the WCA credentialing program help a company retain employees they train?

Nelson: A good real-world example of how the WCA standards can be used by industry is Jefferson Millwork. They were pioneers in adopting the WCA credentialing program not only to structure training for new hires, but to create an incentive program that ties pay raises to employees who grow their credentials. Last fall, Jefferson was the first woodworking company to award the red credential to an employee. They proved it can be done. We can only hope that other woodworking companies are paying attention.

Having a good training program in your plant is always going to increase your bottom line because of greater productivity, fewer mistakes and fewer do-overs.

I honestly don’t understand how companies can skimp when it comes to training their employees. Having a good training program in your plant is always going to increase your bottom line because of greater productivity, fewer mistakes and fewer do-overs. When you have someone coming in fresh off the street you have to teach them the basics. They have to understand what your products are, what their characteristics are, why controlling moisture is important, the machines and tools you are working with, and how to read a tape measure. These are basic things that have to be taught. Just having Joe follow John around for six months is not enough. You need a formal training program so that the new hire knows this week we’re covering this, in week two we’re going to cover this, in week three we’re going to cover that.

It all starts with a company’s culture. If you want an employee to stay, you need your training program to be tied to a career path for them. But an employer can’t tell the employee what it means to go from A to Z if the company doesn’t have a formal system in place for evaluating the employee’s progress. Again, this is where the WCA comes in.

Christianson: What’s on tap for the WCA in 2020?

Nelson: At last year’s AWFS Fair we announced plans to develop the WCA 4.0 credentialing program to complement our current Passport program. We recognize that there are a lot of woodworkers who are working in cell-based manufacturing environments who would have a hard time earning credentials based on our current tool points system. The basic concept of WCA 4.0 is to help an employee develop their skills within their cell and then be cross-trained to work in additional cells. Theoretically the employer would compensate the worker based on how much value they are able to add in terms of productivity, maintenance, etc. The more sophisticated the machine or cell and the more cells that person can work in, the more valuable he becomes to the company. So now when someone is absent, their lines do not stop.

The cream always rises to the top. The newer employee is going to have to acquire experience but you still have to test him through the whole process. He can say that he can do everything but you have to test him to be sure. By running a test, you might find he’s where he needs to be or behind or maybe even ahead. If you don’t have a testing program, you don’t have any way of knowing it.

We are not the teaching arm. We are the testing arm and a certifying body.

WCA has the test. We’re not going to tell you how to teach your employees. However, we have resources and information that can help companies develop their training programs. We are not the teaching arm. We are the testing arm and a certifying body.

Christianson: What’s the next step for WCA 4.0?

Nelson: We are planning to partner with Woodworking Network on a benchmark industry survey that goes beyond simply reaffirming the woodworking industry’s long-stranding struggle to find and keep good workers. We want to identify ways to help the industry meet that challenge. This includes gathering information from woodworking companies about some of the key components for structuring WCA 4.0 and how we can best deliver this new credentialing program to them. We have ideas, but we want to verify that what we are doing it correctly and to solicit input for improving on our ideas.

We want to offer solutions to help individual companies by creating a flow of knowledge. Every company is different. Some use panels, some don’t. Some make mouldings, some don’t. Some do piecework only, some don’t. Our goal is to create a menu of options that each company can choose from based on their circumstances.

We will be publishing the key results of the study and will have more to share at IWF in Atlanta. Bruce Spitz (past president of the Architectural Woodwork Institute) and I will present a How to Create Your Own Training Program workshop. Attendees will have the opportunity to develop their own training template using WCA skill standards. Some guys are going to want to emphasize the WCA Passport program and some are going to be more interested in WCA 4.0. We’ll cover both in the workshop.

Christianson: Any final words?

Nelson: Like it or not, woodworking companies have to understand that they are competing with higher paying jobs in other industries. That’s not only a perception, it’s a reality. If we can’t afford to pay our people as well as other manufacturing jobs, then it becomes even more vital to create career paths that reward them based on their desire and ability to enhance their skill sets.

Every company experiences turnover. The goal is to minimize so that it only happens at entry level. Once you’ve invested a couple of years in training someone, you presumably would want to keep that person. Having a written plan that rewards an employee for achieving specific goals that can be fairly evaluated shows that you care about that person’s career.

Sometimes the best person to keep is someone who shows up to work, has a great attitude and is a positive influence on your operation. Once you have the formal plan in place, you are on track to make someone a great employee for life.