WoodLINKED: A tale of two schools

By Steve Klassen
Garden Valley Collegiate
Winkler, Manitoba

Are you a person who likes to work with wood and would like to know more about jobs in the industry? Then you might try the one of the WoodLINKS courses offered in several high schools in British Columbia and at Garden Valley Collegiate in Winkler, Manitoba.

WoodLINKS works with schools and industry to develop wood manufacturing programs in schools and to provide practical training for students.

Although the program originates in B.C., there are now 11 students taking the new WoodLINKS course at GVC in Southern Manitoba. The GVC students are all in the introductory course and while it is not as yet clear how many will continue in the advanced course, this eastward expansion is a significant step for the WoodLINKS program. GVC is the first school outside of B.C. to offer the WoodLINKS course.

Timberline Secondary School in Campbell River, BC has been a pilot site for the WoodLINKS program for the past two years. Like GVC, Timberline presently has ll students enrolled in WoodLINKS. Due to the small enrollment, the Timberline students have all been placed into regular wood-working courses.

"This is not the best situation," says teacher Doug Kearney, "but we will make do as we did last year."

Shop programs in B.C. are sometimes seen as "dumping grounds" for students who are not going on to university studies. Kearney says Timberline is trying to change that perception "by making trades courses in the secondary school count towards college trades courses."

Timberline is in a good position to do this since it is a joint secondary school and college and the different level trade courses are offered "side by side and even share the same classrooms."

When students at GVC and Timberline Secondary have passed both the introductory and advanced WoodLINKS courses, they will qualify for a certificate, which is recognized all over North America as a valuable addition to a student's resume. Employers in the wood industry would obviously choose a student with a WoodLINKS certificate over someone who does not have one.

Most of the wood industry jobs in the Campbell River area are in logging and saw mills. The WoodLINKS program aims to simulate jobs in secondary wood processing. Graduates can seek jobs on the computer side of the industry or on the technical planning side. The training should lead to an above-average entry level position.

Kearney said that secondary wood-processing jobs are typically small independent operations. Because of this, starting wages are around ten to fifteen dollars per hour but the employees can work their way up.

Mel Vanstone, the WoodLINKS teacher at GVC, says that, at the entry level, his students may not start at a higher wages, but they will have a much better chance of getting the jobs they want. With the WoodLINKS training, they should also be able to advance more quickly from their entry-level position.

Any new program encounters challenges, but Vanstone says he was surprised by one he has encountered. For two months out of the term, the GVC students need to start at 8:00 a.m. This fits with the starting time of local wood industry work sites, but is an hour earlier than most GVC students start their day.

"In a blue-collar town like Winkler, ninety percent of the people start work at 8:00 o'clock," says Vanstone. "We never anticipated a problem (with the starting time). We thought that students in their last year of high school would have no problem being at school at 8:00. However, we did have some whining and complaining about the early classes."

There is no cost to the WoodLINKS students at either GVC or at Timberline Secondary. As part of the program, students design, manufacture and market a product. Doug Kearney says his students can use this as a motivating opportunity to earn money and, after the shop expenses are paid, to divide the profits.

GVC will allow its WoodLINKS students to keep one of the mass-produced items, with the remaining items raffled off as a fundraiser. In the future, GVC students anticipate contracting to make a product for a local wood business.


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