Credentialing aims to build highly skilled workforce for wood products industry
DATELINE – A new credentialing and training program is intended to benefit both wood workers and the wood manufacturing industry in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The Skilled Workforce Initiative is designed to help the industry be economically competitive by ensuring that it has a highly skilled workforce now and in the future.
“We’re approaching this two ways,” said Rob Riley, president of the Northern Forest Center. “We’re offering the program directly to manufacturers and their workers, and we’re working with educational institutions to prepare students for good jobs in the wood manufacturing industry. One of our goals is to establish a strong career path for woodworkers, and to make sure the field is a recognized and valued profession.”
The Regional Wood Products Consortium—a collaboration between the Northern Forest Center and the wood products manufacturing industry in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and northern New York—is offering the program to manufacturers in northern New England for the first time. The Woodwork Career Alliance (WCA), a national organization, will supply the standards and credentialing system.
“WCA has worked closely with the industry across the nation to develop skill standards for important machines and tools used in wood manufacturing,” said WCA President Scott Nelson. “When a worker satisfies standards for a particular machine or tool, we indicate that in the woodworker’s ‘Woodwork Passport,’ which serves as a portable, permanent record that can be used for career advancement.”
“Working with the Northern Forest Center is a critical step in moving our program forward. We’ll be able to demonstrate the practical value of the credentialing system for companies, employees, educational institutions and students,” said Nelson.
The Center is talking with community colleges, private woodworking schools and technical colleges, as well as specialized schools at the high school level, about implementing specialized skills training and WCA’s credentialing system as part of their curricula.
“Across the region, the value-added wood products manufacturing sector employs thousands of workers, and small- and mid-size wood products companies represent a large employment base in rural communities,” said Collin Miller, who coordinates the Regional Wood Products Consortium for the Northern Forest Center.
“This program provides a professional pathway we’ve needed in this industry for a long-time,” said Miller. “We believe the program will lead to a higher rate of job placement and job satisfaction, and it will build and help sustain a skilled workforce in the region so that wood products manufacturing can be a vibrant part of the forest-based economy here.”
Manufacturers in all three states have signed up for the initial stage of the program, which provides a detailed profile of each company’s credentialing and training needs for current and future employees.
“We’re looking to improve skills in some key areas of our production,” said Henry Kober, owner and president of DCI in Lisbon, New Hampshire, which produces hardwood furniture and design services for clients in education and government.
Kober started the business in 1975 with three employees in a small shop. The company has since grown to employ more than 200 people at three facilities in New Hampshire, Vermont and North Carolina.
“We want to hire people who want to gain the skills to grow with the organization. This training program can help bring up the next generation of talent who can work in this type of precision manufacturing,” said Kober.
The Skilled Workforce Initiative is available to wood product manufacturers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. In addition, grant funding enables the Consortium to provide free and discounted participation to many companies, based on location and other factors.
“We’re out recruiting businesses and schools to participate in the Skilled Workforce Initiative,” said Miller. More information on the program is available online, or by calling Miller at 603-229-0679, ext. 110.
In addition to WCA, other key partners in the Consortium’s Skilled Workforce Initiative include the Vermont Wood Manufacturers Association, Maine Wood Products Association, Architectural Woodwork Institute, White Mountains Community College, and Vermont Woodworking School.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration provided some initial funding for the program through the Rural Jobs Accelerator Challenge, a national initiative that supports rural partnerships that aid small businesses.
“Our missions are so well aligned,” said Miller. “The Consortium facilitates innovation to enhance economic competitiveness in wood products companies, and the Woodwork Career Alliance seeks to reward the workforce while helping to sustain and grow the woodworking industry. This credentialing and training system will help workers in their careers and help the industry be more competitive overall.”
QUOTE FROM VERMONT:
“The work is out there,” states Kevin Hastings, Owner and President of Amoskeag Woodworking in Colchester, Vermont and part of the first group of companies being profiled by WCA, “But if we can’t staff up fairly quickly with a skilled workforce, our opportunities for growth are more limited.”
Hastings started his woodworking business in the mid 1990’s with a small shop and a few part-time employees. Since then, the company has added a hardwood millwork division and a new production facility in Fairfax and grown to more than 50 employees.
“This program will significantly advance the woodworking sector in our area over time and we’re looking forward to the possibilities it brings us,” Hastings said.
QUOTE FROM MAINE:
“Maine’s wood products industry is resilient because of its people,” said Louise Jonaitis, owner and president of Saunders Brothers LLC in Locke Mills, Maine. Saunders makes dowels, rolling pins and other turnings from local birch and maple and is a part of the first group of companies being profiled by WCA.
Jonaitis purchased the assets of Saunders Brothers and other defunct Maine wood products companies at auction, hired back some former employees and reopened the facility in Locke Mills in 2011.
“Further developing our workforce will enable me to grow the business to create more jobs that this area needs,” said Jonaitis.
DCI President Henry Kober (right) and Scott Nelson of the Woodwork Career Alliance discuss woodworking machines and tools during a recent visit to assess DCI’s interest in a training and credentialing program for woodworkers.