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By Tony Kryzanowski
We’ve all heard the complaints—we can’t attract skilled tradespeople to work in our mill, we can’t attract people to work in our remote community, we can’t find a good cook for our camp, kids coming out of school these days don’t have the skills or a good work ethic for what we need, I can’t afford to train a greenhorn to run a $300,000 piece of equipment… and on it goes.
Couple that with the prediction by some analysts that the ratio of workers to retirees will drop from 8 to 1 today to 2 to 1 by 2030, and it seems quite clear that the Canadian forest industry is not only going to have a hard time finding skilled workers, but will find itself in a major dogfight just to attract workers, period, as the current workforce enters retirement age.
However, there is one employee resource that the industry has not fully considered, and those are personnel leaving the armed forces.
According to a federal government study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 5,000 people leave the armed forces every year. The question for many human resources people in the forest industry might be, why aren’t more of them applying for jobs that we have available?
The answer is quite simple, once you think about it. Military personnel, while often highly skilled in trades that would make them a perfect fit for the forest industry, sometimes have difficulty understanding how to apply for a civilian job. Many sign up for the military at a young age and while in the military, their advancement or placement was handled by the military. We are all familiar with how military personnel are transferred from one base to another, often on short notice.
So, it would definitely be worthwhile for HR departments in forestry production facilities or in logging operations to take the initiative and reach out to these vets. The Veterans Affairs study notes no less than eight programs it offers to help industry find qualified exiting military personnel, and to help military personnel land good paying jobs that fit their skillsets.
One excellent resource for helping connect retiring vets with the forest industry is a website called www.vetyournexthire.com, operating under a program called BaseToBusiness. It is a non-profit, workforce attraction and retention partnership led by an organization called Prospect Human Resources, and is funded by Alberta’s Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training, and Labour.
One issue that forest companies may have is whether a vet has the training certification and equivalencies to step into a skilled forestry job. That is one area where the BaseToBusiness program can help, addressing such points as skills equivalencies, interprovincial certification requirements, and mentorship programs. According to Prospect, there are more than 100 trades and professions in the Canadian Armed Forces. Many vets hold a military trade qualification issued by the Department of National Defense and many apprenticeship and industry training boards recognize a number of military trade qualifications as equivalent to provincial trade certificates. It may be different from one province to another, so it is worthwhile checking local equivalencies.
Looking specifically at the immediate challenges being faced by the forest industry, it just makes sense for companies and contractors to take a closer look at hiring a vet. First, many retiring military personnel have both technical skills and experience. So a vet could be just the right person for a hard-to-fill millwright, electrician, welding, equipment operator, log truck driver or lead hand job.
Second, vets are used to moving from one base to another and also training in remote locations. Many signed up for the active outdoor lifestyle. So it seems likely that they would be willing to move and work in a more remote community if it means they can continue to enjoy some of the lifestyle benefits offered by military maneuvers. That includes cooking in a remote camp.
Third, military personnel are also used to respecting the chain of command, so it is highly unlikely that hiring a vet will require an attitude adjustment. Prospect says in its material that it is unlikely that company supervisors will hear the excuse, “sorry I was late because I was getting a latte”, from a vet.
Fourth, what some vets really bring to logging contractors is experience operating heavy equipment. While they may need training on specialized equipment like feller bunchers, many have experience operating construction equipment, given the needs of the military in how they deploy and manage units in the field. Military training includes a strong focus on preventative maintenance.
And finally, there are a percentage of vets who have sustained injuries in combat. Perhaps companies should consider giving something back to them, like a steady job, for what they have sacrificed for us. Let’s make a bigger effort.
On the Cover:
A significant investment by C & C Resources in its Edgewood Forest Products sawmill in Saskatchewan includes a new breakdown line provided by German-based LINCK, and other equipment changes that will allow the sawmill to process a wider range of sawlogs into solid wood products.
An exit, by choice, from the logging business
Long time logging contractor Derek Stamer recently exited the business—but he still believes there is opportunity in the industry, and he had a few words of advice for young loggers, following the final auction of his equipment.
Major Saskatchewan sawmill upgrade
C & C Resources has invested $25 million in its Edgewood Forest Products sawmill in Saskatchewan, which it expects will pay off in a 20 per cent increase in solid wood recovery.
Nadina Logging—which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year—has a rich family heritage that still forms the foundation for this modern logging company that these days is very capably dealing with harvesting small wood in the B.C. Interior.
Finding its niche
B.C.’s Wadlegger Logging and Construction has truly found its niche on the mill side—producing large dimension Douglas fir product—and on the construction side, the company is moving into building more road, with the addition of a rock drill.
Dust control in B.C. sawmills
A culture of increased safety has emerged in the B.C. forest industry around sawmill dust control, four years after two horrific sawmill accidents that claimed four lives.
Canada’s Top Lumber Producers
Canada’s total lumber shipments increased by more than nine per cent in 2015, but some Canadian forest companies are continuing their pivot to the U.S. South, with both Canfor—which continues to be Canada’s top lumber producer—and Interfor adding to their sawmill counts in the U.S. South during the year.
B.C. Saw Filer’s Conference Preview
The upcoming B.C. Saw Filer’s Association conference—being held in Kamloops April 29-30—is expected to be another success, with solid attendance, and good participation from the equipment companies that supply the filing rooms which form the backbone of sawmills across B.C.
Logger, sawmiller—and cattler farmer
With logging, sawmill, cattle and farming operations, to say that Darcy Coleman’s days are busy would be an understatement.
Lobster trap lumber
Nova Scotia’s AFT Sawmill was born out of necessity to provide lumber for the A. F. Theriault & Son Ltd. boatyard, but it now produces a broad range of products—with a significant “value add” lumber product being lobster trap components.
Alberta’s Robill Contracting fully understands the value of prioritizing efficiency over volume—and when it comes to their logging operation, the focus is truly on the family.
New lathe linecuts a brighter future for plywood plant
With a new $15 million lathe line now in place at its hardwood plywood plant in the Ontario town of Hearst, Columbia Forest Products is looking to ramp up production—and better secure the jobs it provides, being the largest employer in the northern Ontario town.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions and
The Last Word
Canada’s veterans could take on many of the forestry jobs the industry is currently looking to fill, says Tony Kryzanowski.