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Awarding young people in forestry

June 11, 2014 - While touring the country and talking to industry professionals, the need for more skilled labour is one that resurfaces time and time again. Just this week, Byron Warner, the mill manager at Edgewood Forest Products in Saskatchewan, explained that his mill has been running only one shift since it restarted because they don’t have enough logging contractors to supply the logs required to justify adding a second shift.

Young workers who would have been drawn to forestry in good times have instead moved on to other industries and other regions for work. Now that demand for our wood products is rising, as an industry, we need to draw people back to forestry careers. This is easier said than done after such a harsh contraction with so many job losses across the country.

Potential employees want to know that they’ll have a job to show up at next week, next month and next year. They want more than good pay; they want stability – both of which can be challenges for employers still reeling from the effects of the last downturn. But balanced books and safe sawmills can go a long way in attracting and keeping key employees.

Udo Jahn, the general manager of Modern Engineering, explains that it’s time for the industry to step in and start training more young people (see page 50 for Jahn’s column). His solution is simple and makes a lot of sense but requires a general buy-in for it to succeed. Rather than complain that there aren’t enough skilled workers, hire educated young people looking for work, and train them to fill the empty positions while we still have the experienced workforce around to share knowledge gained over the years.

At the recent Canadian Woodland Forum’s Spring Meeting in Moncton, there was general consensus that the logging contractors in attendance weren’t making good use of the technical tools available to them through their forest machine manufacturers. Loggers complained they didn’t have sufficient training on the new equipment but suppliers complained that clients wouldn’t make time to be trained – even when training was complimentary with purchase. One contractor told the crowd his untrained, 16-year-old nephew was able to pull up a report on his harvester’s performance quickly and easily. And then he probably went back to flipping burgers at a fast food joint.

Young people may not have the traditional skills required in sawmills or logging sites, but they do have one characteristic that employers need – they’re not afraid of new technology. And as harvesters become increasingly intelligent and sawmills are equipped with new methods of optimization, it is this younger generation that will be able to see the potential in new technologies. Any business that invests in a new generation of employees will have an edge over the long term.

Bright young people are in demand in many industries that have an aging workforce. To attract more young people to the forest industry, we’ll need to stand apart from the others and inspire young people to see the potential in one of our country’s oldest industries. Instead of pointing to what the forest industry was in the past, what can it be in the future?

Last year, we chose 20 young people under the age of 40 who have done something remarkable in their careers. They are all hardworking and dedicated to forestry. From research to silviculture to logging and sawmilling, young people are inspired to bring innovation to an aging workforce.

We’re adding another Top 10 under 40 to our list of young achievers because the forest industry has room to grow and a bright future ahead. Nominations are under way on woodbusiness.ca - our readers span the country and are employed in various parts of the industry so we need your help to ensure we have nominees from your region, company or field.

We’re looking for 10 individuals who stand out from the crowd because of their work ethic, leadership, initiative, training and commitment to the forest industry. If you know someone who fits this profile, please let us know at


June 11, 2014  By Amie Silverwood

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