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Bluewater Wins National Human Resources Award for WoodLINKS support.

The Bluewater Wood Alliance was presented with a special award at the Wood Manufacturing Council Annual Awards banquet on October 3 in Ottawa.

Ottawa, October 3, 2012 – The Wood Manufacturing Council annually gives awards to recognize exemplary activities in the area of human resources development.  This year, one of the awards was given to the Bluewater Wood Alliance in recognition of the work done to promote the establishment of the WoodLINKS program in two high schools in the Bluewater District School Board.

WoodLINKS is a two-year program that teaches the fundamentals of industrial woodworking to students who are interested in pursuing a career in the wood products manufacturing industry.  It is currently being taught at the BDSB high schools in Chesley and Kincardine.  The student, pictured above, is Devon Patterson from New Brunswick.  He designed the award as part of his WoodLINKS program and was flown to Ottawa with his mother to participate in the awards ceremony.

The award was presented to Laurelyn Nielsen, who is the human resources manager at B&G Furniture, representing the BWA. What follows is the transcript of the presentation:

During the internal discussions of the Bluewater Wood Alliance as to what challenges the member firms were facing and how they could work collectively to the benefit of all, the need to secure high quality entry level workers or their businesses was a consistent issue for the BWA members.  They created a plan to address this issue and felt WOODLINKS was their vehicle to secure the needed employees

WMC Chair Gary Williams presents the award to Laurelyn Nielsen

However, an obstacle was continuously raised in the face of their efforts.  BWA is in the Grey Bruce area and the Ontario Government’s Bruce Nuclear plant is also in that region.  This is a large facility that employs a significant number of people and is able to pay very good wages.  Some dismissed the wood group as being “not of interest” to the youth, “the only good jobs are in the Bruce plant” and they said that the wood business would be unable to compete.  Still, BWA soldiered on.

Within the BWA there was significant current and historical knowledge of the WOODLINKS program and an understanding of how it could contribute. Representatives of BWA worked hard to arrange to meet with officials of the Bluewater School District, on multiple occasions, to introduce the program, identify the key learning outcomes and previous WOODLINKS success in Ontario and beyond, and to demonstrate the group’s interest and support.

Once that hurdle was crossed and the School District had agreed to consider the program, the BWA pooled resources and organized a “Teachers Day”, which included a formal presentation and discussion on the WOODLINKS program but also allowed the teachers to tour several manufacturing facilities, where they were able to see both the technology and design aspect of the sector, to see machinery run, to see solid wood, veneers and panel products being processed and to see both semi-custom and unique specialty products being created in the shops.   Teachers got to ask their questions of the company owners and their employees, to learn first-hand of the skill requirements and of the job opportunities, to touch raw materials, finished products, components etc.  The BWA  offered to pay the registration fees for the initial schools participating, and they offered these schools their off-cuts, used machinery, plant tours, guest speakers, and both summer and eventual permanent job opportunities.

Two area schools are now running the program and discussions are starting, through the local Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program rep, to introduce the program to the Catholic School Board.

There likely has never been such a collective effort by an industry group to secure the WOODLINKS program in a given area and WMC supported the effort by emphasizing to the local education community area that this was an unprecedented display of support from an industry organization and a golden opportunity for their students.

There was a need, and collectively the BWA decided to do something about it – bring WOODLINKS to town.