It takes work to create a partnership between industry and education. Still, it’s a working relationship that Jessica Rohlman, the director of workforce development and community education at the University of Arkansas Community College in Morrilton (UACCM), treasures.
“It just shows how business and industry can work with education. I see what we do as a model,” she says.
The UACCM offers leadership courses to the Mansfield and Russellville mill employees in Arkansas, and employees from the Leola and Huttig mills take similar courses at the Arkansas State University Three Rivers College.
The working relationship with UACCM started a couple of years ago when Chester Fort, the West Fraser regional manager for this state, met Jessica during a leadership course. Since then, they’ve worked on what’s called the Leadership Development Academy. It includes eight to ten sessions per year and is aimed at current and emerging leaders at West Fraser.
“Whether it’s people already in leadership roles or people that West Fraser wants to develop into leaders, we create courses on whatever topics they need help with,” Jessica explains.
West Fraser does have training specific to leadership, but these courses take the practice even further. It builds on it by including professional development courses, a suggested reading list, and mentoring programs.
Chester has seen a difference in the leaders in his mills after these courses. He’s having improved metrics in every area, including stability, safety, turnover rates, and profits.
“I have a story from one of my managers who had a supervisor ask if West Fraser was hiring better employees. The manager responded by saying that the supervisor is now a much better leader, and they’re doing a better job of making sure employees succeed and making sure they grow.”
The work between this college and West Fraser has moved beyond these leadership courses. Jessica and Chester have worked on a state professional development plan for all the Company’s leaders in Arkansas and attend conferences and meetings together.
But it comes down to the hands-on work being done with the leaders that’s the most important to Jessica.
“My favourite thing about the training has been when we brought in the new trainees who are emerging leads. We heard them give specific names of their own supervisors as examples of strong leaders and give examples of what that looks like on the mill floor. That’s been the growth that I have seen, when we have a new group in and they can understand those concepts because they see them in their own people.”
The leadership courses have been on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic but will continue with another group of students.
Recruiting at Colleges
West Fraser’s work with colleges and universities goes beyond developing our current employees and includes recruiting new employees, too. Recently, in the U.S. South, we’ve started working with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to offer internships and to do recruiting.
Dr. Charles R. Colen Jr. is chair of the Industrial Technology Management and Applied Engineering Department (ITMAE). It’s a field of study that’s aimed directly on students interested in technical or technical management-oriented and applied engineering professionals in areas such as the production of forestry and lumber. Students are encouraged to take part in as many internships and co-op programs as possible. Charles feels internships, and these kinds of programs give students an advantage in obtaining a good job after college and a successful career.
“One of our tasks is how do we get the students that arrive in our department at minimum wage knowledge advanced to a lucrative salary! What UAPB ITMAE does is educate them on the skill sets needed, and companies like West Fraser enhance and solidify the information learned, and they make everything real of what we’ve been teaching in the curriculum.”
Right now, two interns are working at Leola, and one other student hopes to stay on after she graduates. There are also two interns from Arkansas State Univerisity-Three Rivers.
These types of connections not only attract interns but also spread West Fraser’s name around to other students.
It’s not only West Fraser that benefits from these connections with post-secondary schools.
“We help them with leadership development by giving them experience in working with different industries. The partnership also gets our name out so people know who we are, and then we have people that want to work for us. Promoting us and education and our values are as a company is very, very important,” says Chester.