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Filling the labour gap
A new Logging Fundamentals Training Program put on by Western Forest Products on Vancouver Island is helping to fill a growing labour gap created by the retirement of skilled workers.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Even before B.C.’s Western Forest Products (WFP) wrapped up its first Logging Fundamentals Training program with six graduates, the program’s developers had friends knocking on their doors with siblings in tow wondering how their child could enroll in the seven week program. Given that level of interest, the developers knew they were on to something.
Randy Boas, operations manager at WFP’s Englewood Forest Operation at Woss on northern Vancouver Island, says the training provides something similar to a learner’s permit to work safely and productively in a coastal log harvesting environment that involves mechanical logging, cable yarding or grapple yarding. Employees working in this environment often find themselves retrieving trees that can measure over a metre in diameter on slopes up to 70 per cent and over 300 metres up a hillside. Boas says program graduates won’t have all the knowledge and experience needed to work on a yarding crew, but the training gives them a good foundation. It puts them in a position where they can work safely and understand the fundamentals prior to starting the job.
WFP has 10 manufacturing facilities located in the southern half of Vancouver Island, and eight timberlands operations on central to northern Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and Mid-Coast on the British Columbia mainland. The company harvests Douglas fir, hemlock, balsam, western red cedar, yellow cedar and Sitka spruce from mostly Crown tenure. The wood is harvested using a combination of WFP’s own workers and contractors, with 1,200 people employed in its timberlands division and up to 1,500 workers employed by its contractors. (read more about the operations of Western Forest Products, and developments with the company, in the interview with WFP President Don Demens beginning on page 10 of this issue).
In the past, many of the techniques needed to work productively and safely in a coastal harvesting operation were learned on the job. However, there have been fundamental changes in technology and harvesting and yarding now takes place in a more technically demanding environment with smaller crews. The natural progression of on-the-job training that typically existed for decades for new workers entering the industry is scarce.
“There was a lot of tower logging in the past, and towers have mostly become extinct,” says Boas. “The industry has now gone mostly with grapple yarding and mechanical harvesting.”
With tower logging, workers attach a choker, a noose of cable or wire rope, to each downed log, then hook the tail of the choker to another cable or hook. The log can then be moved safely toward the landing, with the tower pulling in the cable. The chokerman works under the direct supervision of a rigging slinger and hook tender; working at this position gave new employees a chance to learn required logging skills on-the-job.
However, grapple yarding has eliminated the need for chokermen and has reduced the crew size from six to three. Today, instead of towers pulling logs to the landing, a grapple is propelled along a set of cables and is used to grab and retrieve the logs.
“When the towers went away, there was a gap,” says Boas. “The entry level position has now become the landingman, and as a landingman, it is more of a complex job requiring more skills and knowledge. When we started putting people in a landingman’s job without having any of the background, we saw that there was a gap in their education.”
The landingman’s position was essentially what would have been the next logical step up for the chokerman, except now, the landingman was not acquiring the essential, on-the- job experience that a chokerman would have gained over that initial exposure.
In addition to recognizing an obvious knowledge gap of work fundamentals between today’s entry level employees and experienced yarding crew member, WFP also recognized that a commercial yarding environment is not always the best teaching environment.
“Just because a guy is a good logger didn’t necessarily mean that he is a good trainer,” says Vince Devlin, general foreman, production in WFP’s Englewood Operations, who along with Boas is part of the Training Program Advisory Team. Both he and Boas have worked hard for several years to develop a training program, starting at their previous posting with WFP at the company’s Jeune Landing operation in Port Alice, B.C.
The WFP program modules were developed largely from the WorkSafeBC ‘Cable Yarding Systems’ and ‘Grapple Yarder and Supersnorkle’ handbooks. The Advisory Team also incorporated information related to WFP’s safe work practices and is working with consultants like Steven Falk on the SwitchBack program, Rob Fontaine on the ErgoRisk program, and Dan Dyble from Three Tree Forestry Services for S100 fire suppression training.
The first training module is safety, followed by first aid and emergency procedures. Other modules include: types of yarding equipment, cable yarding systems, rigging, environmental considerations, planning, saw use and maintenance, transporting the grapple yarder or other equipment, grapple yarder hazards, grapple yarder work procedures, and rigging the grapple yarder. Boas says this approach also gives entry level employees broader training and practice in the fundamentals.
“We wanted to make sure that participants were exposed to the whole curriculum rather than just what they’d learn through peer training,” Boas says.
The program emphasizes hands-on experience. It is based at the WFP Englewood Forest Operation in Woss, using existing office space for basic theoretical training and a spare 90’ tower set up in a cutblock suitable for supervised, hands-on work in a training environment.
What’s attractive about the training program is the high probability that graduates will be offered good paying jobs with WFP or its contractors. The company received 86 applicants for six training positions the first time it was offered in September. While most were from the Island, a few applied from the B.C. Interior, and one application even arrived from Germany. Participants are paid as employees when they take part in the training program.
Devlin says there is no doubt that yarding has some inherent hazards, which is why such a training program is so important. With appropriate training, workers understand how to recognize and manage the hazards in order to carry out their work safely. It provides the company and entry level employees with greater confidence that they can work safely in this environment, which is also an important component for attracting more people to forestry jobs.
Many forestry companies are also facing a labor issue as a number of veteran employees reach their retirement age. This has resulted in a growing need to provide on-site training for new employees to fill those critical positions.
“The industry needs an infusion of younger, skilled workers to back fill when the current workers start to retire and move out of the industry,” says Boas. He adds that forestry is also competing for labor with industries like oil and gas and mining. What’s working in WFP’s favor to some degree is the more temperate coastal climate. Devlin adds that a grapple yarding job does pay reasonably well at the entry level.
The United Steelworkers Union has endorsed the program and it has strong support from WorkSafeBC. The program has also received financial support from the Coast Sustainability Trust II program. The funds match WFP’s investment for certain acceptable costs such as paying the salaries of instructors.
Given the response so far, Boas says there is no doubt that there is interest and WFP has been able to attract many highly motivated individuals to its training program. The company plans to hold three more training sessions next year and would like to see the program expand throughout the industry.
This page and all contents ©1996-2015 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.