The business side of woodworking April 2014
Kerry Knudsen

Wood in the spotlight

“What is in a name?” Juliet Capulet famously asked. The answer, she discovered is deeper than she thought.

For a man, the easy part of the answer starts with a physical description – height, weight, hair and eye colour... The stuff others need to confirm an identity.

But it goes on. For example, each man is a financial person, and a bank or broker needs to know nothing about height, weight and so on. To the bank, the financial person is a mix of net worth, income, spending habits, reliability and debt. Each man is also a sexual person, a spiritual person and a social person. What people learn about you depends upon what their interests are.

The mix extends to institutions. People want to know the reputations of schools, companies, employers and agencies as indicators of whether to work with them, avoid them or assess their human components.

“Where do you work?” is one of the first questions people run into during social interactions. It’s an identifier that extends far beyond the physical description, but whether you are short or tall, fat or thin, male or female, if you are a preacher or politician, a lawyer or a trucker, how you answer the question of where you work will result in people putting you in a file, as it relates to their world view.

On April 1, CIBC released a report on manufacturing in Canada. Among other findings, CIBC said the Number 1 Brightest Prospect of all Canadian industries is Wood Products, based on, “(a) productivity growth since 2009, as a measure of sector dynamism; (b) industry sensitivity to changes in Canadian net exports (i.e. the coefficient of net export), as a measure of the direct impact of currency swings on a given industry; (c) foreigners’ share of the Canadian market (import penetration), as a measure of the potential gains from reduced foreign competition due to a weaker dollar; (d) Canadian market share of US imports (export penetration); (e) capacity constraints, measured by the deviation of the utilization rate from long term average; and finally (f) the labour share of total production costs.”

This clearly glowing endorsement of the wood sector provided only one caveat: “A clear negative,” the report says, “is a relatively high level of capacity utilization. However, with continued growth the industry will likely see a strong pace of investment to meet demand.” That means there are not enough businesses to fill the demand, but new investors will come.

But will they? The wood industry has long had a respectable name, but it has fallen into disrepair. We have addressed several times the need the industry has for skilled workers, yet the workers are slow to respond to the need. In fact, it becomes ludicrous to see adult men and women living at their parents’ homes because they cannot find a job in the career they trained for, and all the while there is a full-time, permanent job waiting just down the street.

As we have discussed, much of the responsibility for young people’s avoidance of factory work can be placed at the feet of their information resources. There simply are no TV shows or video games about manufacturing. More responsibility can be laid at the feet of educational institutions that promise “fun” jobs in forensics, forestry or medical technology, when the available jobs are few and the wages low. The game in education can be more about head count and government funding than in providing value to students.

The honour of working with wood has languished in the public eye, second to all the traditional distractions such as sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, but now below things that simply do not exist, such as dragons and zombies. It would be funny, if only it were a cartoon. There is no zombie, there has never been a zombie and there will never be a zombie. Capisce?

If we have this much trouble offering work to the unemployed, what are our chances of attracting investors, other than being the top, brightest industry prospect of the CIBC? No dragons, no zombies, no forensics and no minimum-wage jobs spreading tree bark on federal park paths.

In my view, Wood Industry has fallen short of its goals in this area. The CIBC story is important, not only because it is a red-letter endorsement of wood manufacturing, but because it puts the name of the wood industry out there for people to see. The goal of Wood Industry has been to promote the wood-manufacturing sector in Canada. However, we, like you, have difficulty promoting. We can take a minute to complain that stresses within the industry use up resources that could be directed elsewhere. But the fact remains, we could be doing more, and it is our resolution to do so.

By taking an entry-level job in wood manufacturing, a job seeker can find him- or herself moving on and up into purchasing, administration, marketing, personnel, sales or production. It has always been this way. Similarly, capital investors may grow tired of the get-rich-quick world of internet scams and media spoofs. Did you see a U.S. media company is contemplating a “reality” show about couples that switch partners for the weekend? Talk about stupid. Let me tell you something about reality. When you point a camera at somebody, reality stops. Period.

Some things never change, the trust between marital partners among them.

Romeo and Juliet did not accept tradition, favouring, instead, a new way of playing with words. “That which we call a rose,” said Juliet, “by any other name would smell as sweet.”

The problem is, Juliet, it would not, then, be a rose.

Romeo and Juliet, as with other free-thinkers before them, had their way. And, as Shakespeare was trying to show, once again it turned out badly.

I am happy to see the CIBC report cast wood manufacturing in such a favourable light, and I hope we, collectively can build on that mention to bring more attention to available jobs, more attention to potential for investment and growth and more attention to the negative consequences of investing everything in a one-shot effort to change tradition. Creating virtual weapons to kill zombies must surely be an honourable profession, at least in its intent. However, at minimum, we should limit the number of warriors to a few thousand. We got by with none before, and Canada’s manufacturing sector could use some attention.

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