Training needed for rebounding forest industry

NANAIMO – Executive director of Truck Loggers Association on Island tour to promote economic benefits and skills training.

An industry that once formed the backbone of the Island economy is making a comeback, and Dwight Yochim, executive director of the Truck Loggers Association, is touring the coast with the message that there will be plenty of good jobs in the future and the framework for skills training needs to be built now.

Yochim is meeting with mayors and councils, schools, TLA members and other stakeholders from Nanaimo to Port Hardy this week in an effort to promote the logging industry and the career opportunities it will offer in the future.

“There is a lot of optimism out there,” said Yochim, adding that of the TLA’s 440 member companies 32 are in Nanaimo. “We see this as a sunrise industry for a lot of the communities here. There are a lot of opportunities happening out there right now and if we can work with the governments to figure out how to maximize our annual allowable cut that provides a lot of growth and can help these communities continue to prosper.”

Yochim began his five-day journey up Island on the same day the provincial NDP announced its five-year plan to support the forest industry.

In a release, NDP leader Adrian Dix says his party will invest more than $400 million over five years to improve skills training, forest health, support industry-led efforts to expand global markets, reduce raw log exports and enhance value-added activity.

“Our top priority, one that’s shared with the industry, is to solve the shortage of skilled workers in the sector by making significant investments in training and apprenticeships,” said Dix.

Steve Thomson, minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations, has said that over the next 10 years 25,000 job openings are anticipated due to retirements and economic growth in B.C. alone with more than 60,000 anticipated across Canada.

That need has prompted Yochim to talk with post-secondary institutions like Vancouver Island University to consider establishing a program designed to prepare students for working in the forest.

“We started a conversation on the larger side of the industry which is the logging side of things,” said Doug Corrin, VIU professor of forest technology. “The forest technology side is the smaller part for TLA. Heavy duty mechanic operators, heavy equipment operators, road builders, electricians, the whole gamut. We’re definitely interested in fostering a dialogue between the truck loggers and ourselves and other key partners to see what the needs are out there and determine how we can fill that void.”

TLA already supports VIU forestry students by providing 10 $1,000 bursaries annually – half of all bursaries that forestry students can earn. The association also fosters a strong relationship with faculty and students by inviting, and paying for, attendance at the annual general meeting so future workers can establish connections in the industry and faculty can stay up to date on the latest trends and information.

In Port Alberni, TLA is working with Western Forest Products and Timber West to provide a project-based learning program where high school students experience forest practices in the woods first-hand.

The association recently commissioned a poll to improve its understanding of public sentiment toward the forest industry and found that while most people are optimistic about its future, many believe there is a shortage of jobs in the industry.

With forestry gaining a foothold out of its decade-long slump, Yochim says the future is bright for the industry as foreign markets rebound and demand for B.C. timber increases thanks to diversification strategies implemented to see it through the dark days. He adds, however, improvements can be made to policy to give forestry a further boost.

“One thing that neither party is talking about is the unharvested cut, they just don’t seem to really care about it,” said Yochim. “When I started in the industry we had a world-class inventory that the rest of the world was pretty envious of, and then we didn’t do a lot with it … The message I have for both parties is we have 140 per cent more logs sitting on the stump than we do for export over the last 10 years, but no one is talking about it. We have wood sitting out in the forest we’re not harvesting and that’s based on the annual allowable cut government has set.”

Yochim said the TLA wants to work with whichever party wins the provincial election May 14 to develop a strategy to get the wood moving and return logging to the prosperity it has enjoyed in the past.

“If we combine all of the government forest and the privately owned forests, not only could we feed all of the mills and prevent them from sitting idle, we’d have about four or five million cubic metres left over to export. We could feed the mills and export at the same time,” he said.

The TLA was formed 70 years ago when a group of independent coastal loggers decided they needed representation in Victoria as government was making critical and policy decisions.