Whether they are aware of it or not, many people begin the path toward their future careers at a very young age. In our industry, that happens fairly often. Perhaps your family owns a mill, or a distribution company, or a contracting business that dates back several generations, but for those who do not have deep family roots in hardwood, the career path can be less certain. Where do those young people develop a passion for wood, and where can they go to learn the basic skills they need to explore careers they might not even know exist?
Many young people are first exposed to potential careers through scouting. The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts offer a variety of programs, events, and activities designed to introduce young men and women to different sports, sciences, trades, businesses, and careers. In fact, many famous people that might seem to have nothing in common at all – Steven Spielberg, Michael Jordan, Neil Armstrong, Jimmy Buffett, Bill Gates, Mike Rowe, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name just a few – credit scouts as playing a role in sparking their interest in their future careers. With more than 130 Boy Scout merit badges like Movie Making, Athletics, Space Exploration, Music, Digital Technology, Public Speaking, and Citizenship, it’s easy to see how these famous men developed an early passion for their future careers through scouts.
Trades are a major focus of the Boy Scout merit badge program, but it’s also one of the areas in which scouts have the least opportunity to learn. “What we’ve seen over the years is there are fewer merit badge counselors available to mentor young men to learn skilled trades,” says Jonathan Cartner, District Director for the New Horizons District of the Boy Scouts of America Greater St. Louis Area Council. “These merit badges tend to be very involved, require specialized tools or skills, and take a lot of planning to execute. It has been difficult, especially in areas where trades aren’t typically encouraged in schools, to offer learning opportunities in skilled trades.”
The NWFA is helping to change this. This past fall, the NWFA hosted its first-ever workshops for scouts: one was a Pinewood Derby Workshop for Cub Scouts in grades 1 through 5 (ages 7-10), and the other was a Woodwork Merit Badge Workshop for Boy Scouts in grades 5 through 12 (ages 11-18).
The Pinewood Derby is an annual event that encourages Cub Scouts to design and build their own race cars using a simple block of wood. Pinewood Derby kits include a 7” x 1.75” x 1.25” block of pine, four plastic wheels, and four nail axles. Each car must meet specific design requirements for dimension and weight, and competitions typically include trophies for the fastest car, as well as a variety of design awards. During the workshop, NWFA staff and volunteers helped scouts cut, sand, paint, build, and weigh their Pinewood Derby cars.
During the Woodwork Merit Badge Workshop, Boy Scouts learned about trees, the wood they produce, and how that wood is used in our society. Specifically, scouts learned about tree growth, tree anatomy, harvesting, milling, drying, species, tools, safety, and career opportunities for working with wood. Each scout also designed and built a hinged wooden box on his own, using a variety of tools and developing a variety of woodworking skills.
“The Woodwork merit badge is one of those badges that has not been offered in this kind of environment in our area, so it was really rewarding to see so many scouts participate in the workshop,” says Cartner. “Most families don’t have the skills, much less access to the tools, required for a badge like this. With more than 30 scouts participating, and a waiting list almost as long, it’s nice to see such a renewed interest in skilled trades like this.”
NWFA Vice President of Education and Certification, Brett Miller, concurs. “The scouts who participated were really engaged,” he said. “They were eager to try new tools and asked lots of relevant questions. The workshop was a great opportunity for NWFA to share valuable industry knowledge, and it was cool to see the pride each scout had when he left with the box he built with his own hands.”
NWFA members have an opportunity to offer either workshop in their local communities as well. Each workshop was developed to meet complete Boy Scout of America requirements for both the Pinewood Derby and for the Woodwork merit badge. Flyer templates are available to promote either workshop, lesson plans are available that outline the events, PowerPoints are available to utilize during each session, and a complete list of materials needed is available to help prepare for and set up each event. Any member who has an interest in conducting either workshop can contact the NWFA for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anita Howard is Chief Operating Officer at the National Wood Flooring Association in St. Louis. She can be reached at email@example.com.