By Dwight Yochim
The Truck Loggers Association recently commissioned a public opinion poll to better understand public sentiment toward the forest industry, and some of the findings are concerning.
Most notable is the disconnect between the perceived future of the industry – most are optimistic – and the perceived existence of forestry jobs – most believe there is a shortage of jobs.
Our concern lies in the fact that at a time when our members and other forest sector employers are looking to fill thousands of positions, prospective workers in our coastal communities are looking elsewhere.
There are two key reasons for the disconnect.
First, although the industry’s resurgence has been building for months, it follows the longest and most severe housing collapse since the Second World War. It takes time to make people believers again when you’ve been down for so long.
Second, critics of the industry continue to promote negative impressions of our forest practices. This in turn has incorrectly convinced many of our youth that the sector is not environmentally sound or sufficiently high tech to be a priority career choice.
What’s ironic about these findings is that they come at a time when the world is increasingly focused on reducing its carbon footprint and recognizes that forest-based materials have a significant advantage over materials that are non-renewable and/or require large amounts of fossil fuel energy to manufacture (e.g., plastic, steel and concrete).
As such, our industry is increasingly viewed as the high-tech sustainable industry of the future and the related job opportunities are broad and vast.
Just ask Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, who noted that over the next decade 25,000 job openings are anticipated due to retirements and economic growth alone.
But, what to do in the short term?
There are many who believe a comprehensive branding campaign is required to position the forest sector as a world-leading high-tech industry, a job creator and source of improving government revenues – all true attributes but expensive to execute.
A more immediate solution may lie in some of the grassroots strategies initiated by the TLA, along with Western Forest Products and TimberWest, involving support for the Alberni school district’s project-based learning program whereby students experience forest practices in the woods every day as part of their regular curriculum.
Students earn core high school requirements through hands-on learning activities in the outdoors, including maintaining a 10-hectare Christmas tree farm, offering tours of a woodlot they maintain and explaining techniques they undertake.
The bottom line is firsthand experience means increased interest and awareness in the many job opportunities present in the local community.
Although these programs are starting to pay off, we need to do a lot more to get the word out – to educators, to employment and guidance counsellors, and to parents – that the sector has bounced back, the long-term outlook is extraordinary and that good jobs are available in communities up and down the B.C. coast.
Dwight Yochim is executive director of the Truck Loggers Association.