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By Paul MacDonald
The upcoming B.C. Saw Filer’s Association conference—being held in Kamloops April 29 - April 30 at the Coast Hotel and Conference Center—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.
The trade show portion of the event begins at noon on Friday April 29 and ends at 7 p.m. and is open to all filers, mill managers and maintenance supervisors. In 2015, the conference had 40 exhibitors, offering attendees a look at the latest in technology, products and services, and this year promises to be a continuation of that theme.
In the theatre room after the trade show, the association is planning a full buffet dinner, followed by entertainment featuring an improv group.
On Saturday April 30, the association will hold its Annual General Meeting. Registration is available on site Friday and Saturday, and the association is planning an early registration option where dinner tickets may also be purchased. More information regarding the agenda for the AGM and how to register early is on the B.C. Saw Filer's website at www.bcsawfilers.com.
“On behalf of the executive, we would like to thank everyone in advance for their continued support,” says Marty Vatkin, president of the association.
“The importance of a conference such as ours is not only that it allows us to renew old acquaintances and make new ones, but it also brings together new technology and ideas for us to learn, and remain competitive in the future. We are looking forward to seeing everyone in Kamloops,” Vatkin added.
Attendees can expect to see—and hear about—new filing technology, both at the trade show and at the conference sessions. “More than anything else, the message at the conference will be that filers and sawmills should not hesitate to try the new technology that is available,” says Vatkin. “We all know what works, and the tried and true is important, but so is trying out new technology.”
The trade show portion of the show will certainly feature new technology, and increasing filing equipment automation. But it’s important to realize that automation does not replace people, Vatkin added. “Automation allows us to do a better job as saw filers—it enhances what we are able to do, and we’re emphasizing that is the approach we need to take in employing new technology.”
Vatkin said there is a strong focus on getting maintenance superintendents, mill management, electricians and millwrights to attend the conference, to get a better understanding of the work that saw filers do to keep the sawmills of B.C. operating smoothly. “I think it would help them to do their job better, and it would help us to do our job better, if the understanding was greater.”
Vatkin noted that saw filers used to be reluctant to share information about what they do—but that is now more in the past. “We really can’t do that anymore,” he says. “We need to have the other people in the mill understand what we do, and how we do it. The more understanding there is, the more willingness there is to work as part of a group.”
There continues to be growing concern about a shortage of saw filers—and that the shortage is going to be worse going forward, from all appearances. It’s part of an overall concern about where the forest industry workers of the future, including very skilled workers such as saw filers, are going to come from.
Earlier this year, the B.C. government hosted a roundtable on access to skilled labour for the forestry sector.
Forestry sector representatives met with the federal and provincial governments to discuss skilled-labour initiatives and human-resource planning, as part of a series of roundtables being held this year throughout B.C.
The roundtables, co-hosted with industry associations and employers, aim to stimulate discussion and create awareness about how sectors can access skilled labour and satisfy human-resource requirements, as a result of an aging population. These demographic realities—together with economic growth—place significant pressure on key sectors, such as the forest industry, to find innovative solutions to address skills shortages.
Participants were invited to share information and discuss the unique challenges in the forestry sector, specifically related to recruiting and training a qualified workforce. The issue is getting attention from high levels.
“Our government is always looking at ways we can better partner with industry to address the shifting needs of B.C.’s labour market,” said Steve Thomson, B.C.’s Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
“We appreciate government’s focus on skills training, as prompt action is required given the lead time needed to address the forest sector’s challenges in training our next generation of workers,” said Mike Cass, co-chair of the B.C. Forest Sector Workforce Initiative.
This critical need for training the next generation of workers applies directly to saw filers in sawmills right across B.C.
“I think the industry is going to be in for a huge hit,” says Vatkin. “There are just too many guys that are my age—I’m 57—and older that have retired or are going to retire, and we don’t have the apprenticeships going on that we need—we are not even close,” he says.
Vatkin is head filer at Interfor’s Adams Lake sawmill, and he has 12 guys on his crew. “Only three of them are under 50,” he says.
Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops will have several saw filing apprenticeship programs going this year, but it’s not enough to meet the needs of the industry, says Vatkin.
The major lumber producing companies in B.C.—such as Interfor, Canfor and West Fraser—need to step up to the plate with their own training initiatives, he says. “They need more apprenticeships—period,” he says.
If things continue as they are now, the sawmills are going to be in very tough situations going forward. “They are going to be paying big dollars for the sawfiling expertise.”
It looks as if the companies are seeing automation as a solution to the issue of not having enough filers—but that’s not the best approach, Vatkin says. “Part of their thinking is that they are going to be able to fix things with automation and automated equipment. But it should not be a matter of reducing your tradespeople with automated equipment—you should be using automation so your people can do a better job. That’s really what it should be all about.”
Friday, April 29
10:00 am Open for registration
12 am– 7:00 pm Trade show open
7:00 pm Theatre opens for meet & greet, dinner & show
Saturday, April 30
8:30 am Doors open for registration – coffee available
9:00 am Annual AGM
10:00 am Break
10:15 am Barry Nakahara, Work Safe BC “Wood Dust”
11:00 am Break
11:15 am Ron Mohr, Interfor Sawmills “Quality Control & Saw Issues”
12:00 pm Simonds International Luncheon
1:30 pm Eric Gabara, HMT “New Sawmill Technology”
2:15 pm Break
2:30 pm Jim Hodgson, Hodgson Saw “V-Top Saw teeth”
3:15 pm Break
3:30 pm Jennifer Booth, Colleen Rogan, ITA
Topic: “Saw Filer Program Report”
4:00 pm Break/Executive Meeting
4:15 pm Open Forum Discussion
So what is the jobs situation in B.C., and in B.C.’s forest industry?
Well, the B.C. government notes that the province has reached a tipping point where more B.C. residents are leaving the workforce than entering it.
The province says that:
At Camson College on Vancouver Island, a new $30 million Centre for Trades Education and Innovation was opened earlier this year. With 80,000 square feet of learning space, the facility aims to build upon Camosun’s position as the largest provider of trades training on Vancouver Island.
A prominent feature at the centre are its soaring cedar beams, cut at local sawmills.
The irony is that B.C. does not have enough sawfilers at its sawmills now—and will likely have even fewer in the future—to enable the smooth and efficient production of the wood that goes into these buildings that train trades people.
The B.C. Sawfilers’ Association is working hard to try to get more people interested in taking on sawfiling as a career—and association vice-president Marty Vatkin says it’s a career with a good future.
“We need to market sawfiling to younger people—it’s a good, lucrative career that is going to be around for a long time, and the job prospects are only going to get better. As an association, we have to let more people know that.
“Part of the perception,” he says, “is that sawmills are dying—that they are not going to be here in 10 years’ time. Well, I heard that same line when I started as a saw filer in the 1980s.” It wasn’t true then—and it’s not true now, he adds.
If you’re looking for a challenging job in the sawmill, it doesn’t get much better than being a sawfiler, Vatkin says.
“You need to be very mechanical and analytical—you need to be able to look at equipment and see where the issue is—and be able to fix it.
“For me, it’s very rewarding because you can see the results of your work every day—you win the battles to keep the mill productive and efficient.”
Although he works as head filer at Interfor’s Adams Lake sawmill, Vatkin also has a laser alignment company, and it’s taken him to do mill alignments all over North America, South America and into the U.S.
So who are good candidates for sawfilers? “Well, if you are going to be a sawfiler, number one, you need to be mechanically inclined,” he says.
“And you need to have the ability to think outside the box. Where other people might be scratching their heads looking at a problem, it’s your job to come up with solutions.”
Vatkin adds that it can involve a different thought process, with a focus on solving problems by looking at them differently. “It’s not one of those jobs where you read a book, and then are able to go do it. You do have to read the book, but you have to think outside the box and do the practical learning.”
Vatkin says a good candidate for a saw filer is someone who is a problem solver, who works well under pressure—and is able to deliver results that help keep a sawmill cutting lumber efficiently and effectively.
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.
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Lobster trap lumber
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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.