Q & A
Women in Forestry
Follow your passion: Q&A with Interfor’s Jennifer Erlendson
By Ellen Cools
Jennifer Erlendson is the operations superintendent at Interfor’s Castlegar division and is based out of Nakusp, B.C. Initially working up in northern B.C., after university for a licensee in silviculture, she transitioned into planning and development. She later worked in timber pricing for the provincial government, in both policy and systems programming. In 2017, she joined Interfor as an area supervisor at the Adams Lake division – her first time being involved in operations. Last year, she became operations superintendent for the Kootenay woodlands, where she oversees everything from the first cut in the forest to getting the log to the mill. Her advice for women looking to get into the industry? Follow your passion.
CFI: When did you begin your career in forestry and what led you to start working at Interfor Castlegar?
I started my career 20 years ago working up in Mackenzie, B.C. with a licensee, in silviculture. Then, I had an opportunity to move into planning and development and do block and road layout in the field. Fast forward, to 2017, I joined Interfor. I started at our Adams Lake, B.C., operation as an area supervisor looking after logging contractors and road building. I spent about three years there, and then had an offer to come to our Nakusp office in the Kootenays as an operations superintendent. So, looking after basically everything to get a tree from standing vertical in a forest to on a logging truck and hauled onto the scale and through the mill to process. I’ve seen a lot of the pieces of the puzzle throughout my career, but I’d never actually done operations until I moved to Interfor in 2017.
CFI: What is it about your job that you find appealing?
I love the fieldwork and seeing a good plan come together in the field. I love exploring and seeing new terrain. I also really enjoy learning and being challenged. Operations is also very dynamic – it changes weekly, if not daily. The weather is a huge factor, so you’ve got to love talking about the weather. There’s also a lot of problem solving. Things are always changing, so you have to readjust on the spot, think on your feet.
I also like the collaboration. Logging is, from what I’ve seen in the last couple of years, often a family-based business. Lots of the companies now are second-generation, and I will never know more about logging than someone who grew up in it. So, to me, it’s a good opportunity to collaborate and use our contractors as a great resource to find out what they think is the best strategy in how to log and where they should be logging. They know a lot and being able to rely on them as a resource and collaborate with them, I really enjoy that.
CFI: How has mentorship played a role in your career?
I’ve had lots of people help me along the way. I’ve had formal mentorship relationships and I’ve had a lot of informal mentors. I’ve had male and female mentors. I’ve had mentors on a short-term basis, where I’ve been interested in another job and sought out a specific person to find out more about that job. But, it can also be a long-term relationship. I keep in touch with friends from university and former co-workers, and they are a great sounding board.
When you have a direct supervisor that is also your mentor, I’ve found that can be a great situation that will help you progress in your career and really develop as a person. When your direct supervisor is also your mentor, you really believe they will put your personal development above everything else. So, they really have your best interest at heart, they want you to develop and progress in your career. But, I’ve also been in the other situation where I’ve had to speak up and ask for feedback, and make sure I’m getting the feedback that I want. Everybody is busy, but sometimes you have to make people make time for you, if you want that feedback.
CFI: How important do you think mentorship is to encouraging more women to get into the industry?
I definitely think mentorship can help you better understand the industry. It’s not only important for getting into the industry, but also for helping you develop along the way. I’m involved in logging and roadbuilding, which, at face value, is a lot of heavy equipment. But, if you dig a little deeper, it really involves a lot of logistics, communication, accounting and safety. As an outsider interested in getting into the industry, I might be intimidated by the heavy equipment. But, if you take the time to talk to someone who’s involved in it or who understands operations a bit better, there is so much more to it than just running equipment.
CFI: As a woman in the industry, do you find that you’ve faced any particular difficulties or challenges?
Personally, I haven’t. I’ve had a great experience in the forest industry. I’ve always felt included and valued and heard. But, if I talk to women who are 10 to 20 years older than I am, I think they would have a different perspective. I think they were some of the true trailblazers. I graduated in 2000 and my forestry class was split 50-50 male-female. So, I didn’t see that at school. Maybe back 10-15 years ago, it was more biased for women in roles like silviculture or mapping or accounting. Now, we’ve progressed to the point where we just got the first female forest minister in B.C. I think now we’re starting to see women move into leadership and management roles, and we’re seeing women more evenly distributed across the various roles in the forest industry.
In the last 20 years, I think the only thing that’s sometimes a bit of a struggle is trying to find high-vis or field gear that’s in a woman’s size and fits properly. Sometimes you have to have things custom made. I’ve been pretty fortunate because I can fit into caulk boots and all those kinds of things. Those actual tangible things have sometimes been the biggest challenge.
CFI: What advice can you share with women considering a career in our industry?
My career advice would be to be yourself, be genuine. I think people relate to that better. I would also say, follow your passion. If you’re interested in something, find out more about it. It makes work way easier when you love what you do. Be curious; ask lots of questions to gain a better understanding.
Also, recognize your own strengths. If you understand yourself better, then you can look at what role interests you in the industry and how to apply your strengths. If I had just looked at operations as heavy equipment, I probably never would have gone in that direction. But, if I think about it as planning, logistics and communication, I think, “Those are some of my strengths, I can do that.” I’m never going to be an expert on heavy machinery, but there are lots of pieces in the role that I enjoy doing and I can work with others who are more knowledgeable about equipment. You can learn the technical side of the business.
Also, always be respectful. We all have a role to play in getting the tree from vertical in the forest to processed and on a log truck, hauled to the mill where it’s processed into lumber and then shipped out to customers. We’re all part of that chain, so we all contribute to that as a team.
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry series celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow us on social media with the hashtags: #WomeninForestry, #IWD2021 and #ChooseToChallenge.