How the WRLA is attracting next-generation workers


The Cedar Shop is a Sexton yard in Calgary that last year won the Best Contractor Specialist award at the Outstanding Retailer Awards. It has an innovative internship program in which Mitch Wile, the store’s president, trains two high school interns every spring. Hardlines HR Advisor got curious about this program, and how it evolved.

The internship program dates back to 2019 when conversations began between Liz Kovach, president of the Western Retail Lumber Association (WRLA), and Eddie Choe, director of business development at Trimlite Doors, Calgary.

“We wanted to introduce this industry to the younger generation,” Kovach recalls. “They can go to career fairs, but it’s very difficult to know what kind of a career you might have, walking through the booths … I thought there’s got to be a better way (through internships). Eddie said he had a colleague at the Calgary Board of Education and we started talking.”

Covid got in the way, unfortunately. “In 2021, we rekindled our discussions,” Kovach said. “We went to Calgary and met with the Unique Pathway team at the Calgary Board of Education … We told them we wanted to introduce new talent into the industry.

The first internships were in place last spring, with mouldings giant Metrie Inc. taking on interns from the vendor side, and The Cedar Shop introducing interns from the retailer side.

“At the same time, the WRLA was introducing our Let’s Go Build public awareness campaign,” Kovach says. “The Calgary Board of Education had some criteria. The students need to come out with some skills, they said. They didn’t want to offer internships where the interns didn’t learn anything.

“The WRLA has recently done an Alberta Labour Market Study for our sector. It sorted out a lot of misconceptions,” Kovach explained.” One of them is that we think that once you enter the industry, you never leave. In fact, 63 percent of the people that enter our industry leave. We can’t afford to have that many people leave. We have to have some sort of introductory course. We used to refer to it as Lumber and Building Materials 101, but we’re now calling it Building Materials Fundamentals.”

“There has to be a way where everyone that comes into our industry can learn the lingo of our industry.”