By S.J. Trotton
In any high school classroom, career planning is a standard curriculum option, with teachers highlighting vocations determined to be most in demand. Robotics, senior health care, financial auditing and jobs in information system development are almost always mentioned.
One of Canada’s key economic contributors, forestry, however is not often part of that conversation which is something forest industry leaders like Bill Nelson are trying to change.
In his Vancouver Island hometown of Campbell River, Nelson works with partners in managing the day-to-day activities of his and his partners’ long-time operation Holbrook Dyson Logging, Ltd. But he is also president of the Forest Education Association, and is helping out with a forestry high school program at Carihi Secondary School, in Campbell River.
Since its inception about three years ago, the program has been growing in popularity and attracting a surprising number of females, says Nelson.
“Last year 50 per cent of the program’s demographic was girls,” reports Nelson.
He attributes the program’s success to its practical aspects. Just like Nelson who eagerly explains much of his workday consists of getting outside and working in the field, the program is planned around ensuring students spend as much time as possible working outside and conducting tasks forestry workers would typically do.
“Students get to learn what they need to know when they go to work in the industry and they are doing it outdoors where they need to be,” he says.
Nelson is equally as adamant the program’s existence has helped tremendously in reminding youth and the public-at-large, that B.C.’s forest products industry is vibrant and open for business.
“With this program running, people are starting to really understand that there’s opportunity here,” he says.
Described as student project inquiry-based, Carihi’s forestry program is focused on teaching students employable skills ranging from stream traversing and GPS usage to tree species identification and compass line placement, through classroom and hands-on activities. Carihi forestry students are able to choose an area of study and research throughout the year. Upon completion of the course, students receive eight credits toward a science elective.
Carihi’s skills-based high school program is one of only a few in the province. Other examples include Port Alberni’s District Secondary School project-based learning program for students in grades nine and 10 who get the opportunity to cover all of their academic content on a Christmas tree farm and woodlot. Grade 11 students at the school can take a Sustainable Resources Management course that counts as four credits and teaches them about the career opportunities within forestry, fishing, agriculture and mining.
The long-time running program at Charles Bloom Secondary School in Lumby, in the B.C. Interior, gives students the chance to practice occupational first aid, maintain chainsaws, operate heavy equipment and even work in their own woodlot. In Vanderhoof at Nechako Valley Secondary School, forestry students also have access to their own woodlot and the school’s graduates often look to become natural resource management employees as they identify with the livable wages the industry is known for. Kelowna’s Rutland Senior Secondary offers targeted training in job-ready fields like utility arborist, and post-secondary prep for careers in environmental engineering and conservation.
At the elementary level in B.C., the forestry education experience usually focuses on environmental awareness, where activities such as natural hikes on interpretive trails are on the agenda. Camps such as woodlot-based Gavin Lake located in the Cariboo region, Evans Lake in Squamish and Silver Lake in Peachland see hundreds of elementary students annually. In the town of Sooke on Vancouver Island, students have the option to take part in the program Nature Kindergarten, one of the first of its kind in Canada that was piloted in 2012. Those children spend the first half of every school day outside where they “experience natural systems and materials found there”.
In Maple Ridge, a suburb of Vancouver, kindergarten to Grade 7 students enrolled in the Environmental School Project spend extensive time learning outdoors. At North Vancouver Outdoor School, students from kindergarten to Grade 12 all have opportunities to turn their natural habitats into classroom settings. And the same goes for Saturna Education Centre and Comber Community School located in Fanny Bay.
Despite the existence of these innovative, environmental and career-focused programs, on a much-wider scale students throughout B.C. and across the country are not necessarily choosing forestry for their vocations and national statistics show the same story Nelson tells. In a labour market report issued by the Forest Products Sector Council, the forest industry is expected to have to fill up to 130,000 jobs by 2020, with 60,000 of those jobs to be filled by individuals with the right education, experience and training. Nearly half of Canadian manufacturers have labour shortages today, and this year it’s expected that 1.3 million skilled-labour jobs in Canada will be vacant for lack of anyone qualified to do them, according to numerous national studies.
The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) has long since recognized this labour shortage and skills-gap dilemma the industry faces. Working with industry, the federal government and forest experts from across Canada, they developed the Greenest Workforce Job Match Tool, which is a website resource for both job seekers and employers. Free-to-use, those looking for work can use the site to browse or search for current openings. They also have the option to register as a job seeker so their skillsets can be matched with the right jobs. For employers, the site gives added visibility to their openings as well as an opportunity to identify and connect with a qualified talent pool they need. The site can be seen at: http://thegreenestworkforce.ca/index.php/en/home/.
The site is also described as a content-rich information source that highlights current Labour Market Information (LMI) reports and industry-specific trends and forecasts for anyone wanting to know more about the careers available within Canada’s forest products industry. The site’s LMI data is searchable at the national, provincial and regional levels as well as by occupation. It aims to help employers make the right business and human resources decisions and assist industry associations and post-secondary institutions in addressing skillset issues.
“Forest products companies are going to be hiring thousands of new recruits in the coming years and this tool will really help to fast-track those matches,” FPAC CEO Derek Nighbor states. “When you consider the wide range of skills we are going to need and the opportunities that the growing forest products sector presents, I expect this tool will be very popular with job seekers and companies alike.”
Going forward, Nighbor and his association also contend the pace of hiring is expected to further increase as the industry continues to transform itself. For the time being, the industry is currently in need of all types of workers such as millwrights, pipefitters, engineers, forest technicians, truck drivers and management personnel.
Nelson echoes Nighbor’s opinion: ‘”There is no doubt there are going to be all kinds of opportunities going forward".
The Canadian forest sector creates more jobs and contributes more to the balance of trade for every dollar of value added than do the minerals and metals sector or the energy sector.
As non-traditional forest products have become more important to the sector and provide clean-tech development opportunities, industry employers will need more skilled workers who can further the development of these products.
Canadian Business lists forestry professional among the top 100 best paid jobs in Canada for 2016.
Across Canada, for people just starting out in the industry, workers can expect an annual salary of between $45,000 and $55,000. Forestry workers who move into senior executive positions can expect to make six-figure salaries.
Some 38,000 people depend on B.C.’s coastal forest industry for their livelihoods.
The average B.C. forest worker earns $40 an hour in wages and benefits.
On the Cover:
A Tigercat 870C buncher at work for D. Lind Contracting in B.C. In this issue, Logging and Sawmilling Journal looks at the situation the forest industry is facing with an increasingly older workforce, and where future equipment operators are going come from, beginning on page 4. (Cover photo courtesy of The Inland Group).
Where are the industry’s future employees going to come from?
There is growing concern in the forest industry about where future loggers and equipment operators are going to come from—and a B.C. logging company is taking action in its own backyard, working closely with a local high school to encourage students to look at the forest industry for their careers.
A new look for B.C.’s coastal forest industry
Forest management in B.C.’s Sea to Sky Corridor has taken on a new look, with majority-owned First Nations companies, such as Sqomish Forestry LP, now being large forestry players in the region.
Forest safety—by satellite
Satellite technology is transforming lone worker safety in the forest industry by ensuring no worker is ever without access to a vital line of communications in the remote locations so common to the industry.
Resolute ramps up Atikokan sawmill
Resolute Forest Products is ramping up its brand new sawmill near Atikokan, Ontario, part of the company’s overall investment of $150 million in the region, creating more than 200 jobs.
A family logging affair
Chris Weare of Nova Scotia’s R&C Weare Logging has readily stepped up to the plate—with the support of family—in running their logging business, a heckuva of a busy business affair with an equipment line-up that includes 13 harvesting machines, 10 tractor trailers hauling wood, and roadbuilding gear.
Alberta’s Spray Lake Sawmills has bounced back from the economic downturn, and is even stronger now thanks to consistent mill improvements—and it is looking to grow its treated wood program.
Getting ready for legal pot
The imminent legalization of marijuana—which could happen as early as this year—provides a good reason for forest companies of all sizes to prepare themselves with at least a well-defined and communicated substance abuse policy.
Building business-and a safe workplace
Ontario logger John Fleming has won two health and safety awards, and has found that in addition to helping build a safe workplace, the awards have helped build his business.
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 and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
Jim Stirling on how B.C. is dealing with the spruce bark beetle on steroids, and possible containment strategies.