Wood Business

Features Health and Safety Sawmilling
Help wanted for “super-cycle”

May 22, 2013 – “It keeps me up at night.” That’s how Brian Nicks, senior vice-president, forest management and operations, explains the looming staffing issues facing EACOM, and the forest industry at large.

With Ontario sawmilling operations ramping back up to meet growing demand (see more on its integrated Ontario operations here), and the company’s Timmins sawmill slated to restart later this year, finding people to get the job done has become a full-time job in itself.

“Right now, you have to work at it but we have it under control,” says Nicks, at the company’s Nairn Centre complex. “We try to hang on to tradespeople, and overall it’s a competitive market with mining and other resources. Every one of our Ontario mills is near a mining operation of some kind.”

Nicks notes that the market is also changing, with people looking for more stable, stationary work. Not only are people less willing to move any great distance for work, but they have also changed the way they look for work, using the Internet and third-party agencies rather than simply sending in resumés.

Nicks admits that on the logging side, recruiting has been tough, but to date they have managed by encouraging their existing contractors to grow, or by recruiting contractors from other regions where business has not yet recovered.

“It’s no surprise that with a 60 per cent drop in actual harvest volume in Ontario over the past few years, a number have left the business. With the rebound comes an opportunity for those still here to grow,” says Nicks. “We’ve had some success with some really good local contractors that want to grow, but it will continue to be a challenge as we ramp up province wide. We went from a peak annual harvest of 24 million m3 across Ontario to under 10 million m3. Now we’re back at 13 million m3 and heading to 16 million m3 in the next couple of years.”

With loggers, and especially truckers, in tight supply, Nicks says finding new contractors to enter the business is a priority. It’s also a challenge, as he sees less than half of existing contractors succeeding to the next generation, numbers that can be seen across the country.

Stable supply

One area of less concern is EACOM’s Ontario fibre supply, which Nicks describes as “among the most stable in Ontario.” Not only does the company’s wood basket have a relatively low fire risk, but it has seen increased planting activity in the past and the vast majority is outside the caribou zone, so not subject to the sharp cuts seen by operators further north. The four sawmills’ fibre basket also has FSC chain of custody certification.

“The way we have it organized also means we have limited haul distances for the most part. For example, the Nairn Centre supply is within a reasonable 160 km average distance from the mill.” (see our report on Nairn Centre upgrades here)

Also, the resource in this part of Ontario is of good quality and decent size compared to most of the east.

“In forestry we still think the log profile is pretty nice here,” Nicks concludes with a smile.