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February 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal


Helping the industry get the help it needs

A program of BC’s Council of Forest Industries is providing high school students with valuable, hands-on industry experience that will help them make informed career decisions—hopefully in the forest industry—and is designed to help address a growing shortage of skilled labour in the industry.

By Jim Stirling

Where will they all come from? Young, talented people in a multiplicity of disciplines must be recruited if the Canadian forest industry is to move forward with confidence. The problem is compounded because skilled labour is in short supply in other industries and countries as the work force ages and the competition for talent accelerates.

The demand is already keen for sawmill trades including millwrights, electricians and sawfilers. It’s the same story in the bush for skills like foresters, forest technicians, all types of equipment operators and logging truck drivers. The situation is forecast to get worse in the next five years. While it’s clearly not a problem that can be solved overnight, progress is being made on several fronts. One initiative being watched with interest has been developed by the Council of Forest Industries (COFI), northern operations in British Columbia. It’s called Project Natural Resource Management.

The program is an eye-opener for academically-inclined grade 10 to 12 high school students selected for participation by their teachers. They spend two days in field camps participating in workshops designed to provide an insight into the world of natural resource management and the associated career opportunities it offers. “The students work closely with a host of professionals drawn from local industry, government and post-secondary institutions. They gain valuable, hands-on experience that will help them make informed career decisions,” outlines Chris Lear, manager, forest education for the Council of Forest Industries based in Prince George.

The broad perspective the camps deliver is deliberate and reflects the more than 200 careers associated with natural resource management, adds Lear. Workshop topics include subjects like: fish and wildlife management; soils and ecology; forest health; engineering and block layout; archaeology and integrated resource management.

The workshop component of each camp varies slightly with what’s available in each community, notes Lear. What’s consistent is the participation of professionals, people who are encouraged to be candid with the students about the challenges and opportunities in their field. Typically these people include representatives from forest companies, forest consultants, the ministries of Forest and Range and Water, Land and Air Protection and educational institutions.

“We network with regional colleges and the University of Northern British Columbia to show students a continuum of learning from high school so they can see the connection between college or university and industry,” he explains.

The outdoor, informal setting for COFI’s natural resources management camps encourages group interaction. It’s interesting to see how students get involved in and are quick to grasp the interconnected implications of making integrated resource management decisions, continues Lear.

COFI began its natural resource management camp program about four years ago. It’s been embraced by seven regional school districts. It’s also garnered attention from further afield. Lear says the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Institute of Technology have expressed interest in the camp program.

“The Quebec forest industry is interested in our elementary school education programs and, through the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, deans of forestry school across Canada are really interested in how the program helps recruit students,” he says. Lear has also spearheaded a pilot program called Project Management. It was held in Mackenzie, BC and again involved grade 10 to 12 students split by their interests into trade and profession/management activities.

Students interested in the trades visited Canfor’s sawmill in Mackenzie where they spent time with sawfilers, electricians, millwrights and planermen. Later, they visited Finning (Canada), the Caterpillar equipment dealership, to talk with a parts person and a heavy duty mechanic.

Students on the profession/management program visited Abitibi- Consolidated’s operations. There, they attended sessions on: human resources; the concept of continuous improvement; management/supervisory; accounting; safety; engineering and information technology.

Lear says the Mackenzie pilot proved successful and is being expanded to other communities in the region. It’s hoped the program will encourage students to train and launch their careers in the region.

Lear is confident of the benefits of programs like COFI’s natural resource management camps regardless of whether students ultimately end up working in or related to the forest industry. “They will come away with a broader understanding of what the forest industry does and how it works and that will stay with them later in life.”


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