Standards ‘passport’ unveiled at IWF

16_passportLeaders of the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America, a non-profit woodworking industry support group, attended IWF 2010 to continue its mission of implementing woodwork manufacturing skill standards across the nation.

The Skill Standards project is a credentialing plan for emerging woodworkers. The latest initiatives announced by the WCA means professional credentialing will start as early as next year.

Skills Standards was officially organized three years ago when a board of directors was formed within the WCA to oversee it. The board has since developed the 33 standards that now exist for using basic tools identified by the woodworking industry as a regular part of most shop and factory operations. The categories include sawing, milling, shaping, laminating, turning, joinery and assembly, finishing and more.

The WCA board put a lot of work into the process of developing the plan, according to the group. Duane Griffiths, WCA vice president and director of educational services for Stiles Machinery Inc., emphasizes that other manufacturing segments such as the metals and plastics industries have their own standards and that the woodworking industry is in desperate need of them, too. The idea is practical, but a little overwhelming for some to comprehend, he adds.

"When I talk to people on the floor here at IWF and other industry events, I learn that many people don't really understand what skill standards are," Griffiths said at the show.

Griffiths uses a driver's license analogy to explain the process: A new driver will get into a car with an approved evaluator. The evaluator will have a checklist and ask the driver to drive down to the end of the street. If the person stops properly, a check is made and, if all checks are completed, a license is awarded. The woodwork skills standards involve a similar checklist process.

There are essentially three reasons why the standards ought to be the preferred method in the wood industry, Griffiths says.

First, the method serves as an employment tool by allowing for easy screening of a job applicant's tool-use ability. Second, because there are three levels of each skill to be checked - ranging from entry to advanced - the method serves both the employee and employer by laying out job promotion requirements. Lastly, the standards serve as an educational tool for shop instructors by outlining what should be implemented into class curriculums.

Scott Nelson, WCA president and CEO of Central Plains Millwork Corp. in Lincoln, Neb., attended IWF 2010 with the primary role of soliciting WCA's cause to industry professionals in an attempt to get approved evaluators for the credentialing process, and to search for sites for evaluators to conduct the evaluations.

The evaluators are an essential part of the plan because they will determine if the woodworker has the skill to be checked, says Nelson. WCA's goal is to have 25 evaluators signed up by mid-fall. The next step is to screen those who volunteered to be evaluators for certification. Once the certifications are given, the program will start rolling with a training program for the evaluators. Everything at this point depends on logistics, such as how many people sign up to be evaluators, where they're from and what skills they have. Some evaluators will have strong skills in certain areas and 33 tools need to be covered. At this point, school shop instructors are the most practical participants and the prospective credentialing sights will most likely include many school shops.

"Logically, our evaluators are going to come from our WoodLINKS participant schools. The reason is they have the ability, the facilities, and they know what they have as far as machinery. A majority of the evaluators are going to be educators," says Nelson.

During IWF 2010, the WCA leaders also launched their "passport" initiative part of the skills standards project, which will compliment the individual certification process. This includes the use of a blue book that resembles a U.S. passport and that will serve as a physical record of the skills met that the woodworker can keep with him at all times.

"We're hoping by first quarter 2011 to have 100 passports issued," says Nelson.

Griffiths adds that the biggest impact the skills standards will have on the industry is it will show emerging woodworkers there's a light at the end of the tunnel - that woodworking deserves a good reputation as a lucrative profession.

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This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue.