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Sawfilers unite: BCSFA event highlights struggles, solutions, optimism

May 28, 2024  By  Jennifer Ellson

BCSFA vice-president Scott Courtney (left) and BCSFA secretary and treasurer Matt Graves at the 2024 saw filers convention. Photo: Annex Business Media.

Filers converged in Kamloops, B.C., from May 24-25 to hear about the latest equipment and advancements in the filing room and discuss current issues afflicting the trade.

BC Saw Filers Association (BCSFA) president Sean Wright welcomed more than 85 sawfilers, mill managers, and maintenance supervisors, along with 46 exhibitors at the 2024 Saw Filers Convention.

BCSFA president Sean Wright at the 2024 BCSFA Convention. Photo: Annex Business Media.

Another year of struggle, so thank you for your support – we certainly hope the government can help us,” he said.

“Our mills still need parts, so it’s really nice to see you all again,” Wright joked.


Adrian Plante, West Fraser’s vice-president of Canadian lumber operations, echoed Wright’s sentiments during his presentation on the state of the industry.

Adrian Plante, West Fraser’s vice-president of Canadian lumber operations. Photo: Annex Business Media.

“What I witnessed all through the years is change – lots and lots of change. When it comes to government policies, you need to find solutions around it and work with it because it keeps changing, and some issues like the US-Canada softwood lumber conflict are not going away anytime soon,” Plante said. He added that other problems like inflation are also persistent.

“Market conditions are going to be tough in North America – the SPF and southern yellow pine demand isn’t there. Buckle down, we’re going to have one heck of a ride,” he told the packed room.

When asked by a delegate why, Plante said the diminishing U.S. housing starts is the biggest factor.

Another struggle is with recruitment. “It’s tough. The negative vibe that the industry gets due to the news about closures and curtailments – it’s tough to attract talent, and tough to retain. How do you retain those you attract when they see the news about closures all the time?” Due to a shortage of workers, the skill level has gone down across the industry in the last 15 years, he said.

However, he remains optimistic, saying, “We honestly believe the future is bright – we just got to get past this hurdle.”

He shared that West Fraser is focusing on its core business and not on expanding outside of B.C. “We want to make sure our facilities are here tomorrow.”

A rare breed

Sawfilers are a rare breed these days. According to saw filing consultant and CFI columnist Paul Smith, sawfilers were more plentiful in the past, and a mill’s filing room might have employed anywhere from two to four experienced, professional sawfilers. With the shortage of sawfilers in the industry today, many mills are struggling to be fully staffed.

“However, because of automation and technology in the up-to-date filing centers, some are getting by with one or two experienced, professional sawfilers. But let’s be honest, automation doesn’t replace experienced filers – it only helps them safely manage their workload,” Smith said.

Thompson Rivers University’s saw filing training program instructor Reggie Hewitt. Photo: Annex Business Media.

The sector is combatting this by offering training programs such as Thompson Rivers University’s (TRU) saw filing training program. Instructor Reggie Hewitt gave an update on the improvements made to the program with the help of SkilledTradesBC.

“Last year, SkilledTradesBC talked about initiating an update of the program’s outline right here at the conference. I’d like to let you know that it’s been started,” Hewitt said.

He added that each class is capped at 16 apprentices and that classes are fully inclusive. So far in 2024, there were 42 apprentices across three levels who participated in the program. Hewitt said the school is always looking for equipment donations that they can use for training.

Recruitment opportunity

Tolko’s talent advisor Mark Colbourne was one of the 46 exhibitors at the event, looking to identify and attract talent for Tolko’s operations in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and B.C.

Tolko’s talent advisor Mark Colbourne. Photo: Annex Business Media.

“We are not seeing a lot of sawfilers applying for jobs, so we develop our own – we provide training and support,” he said. “We would like to remind people that the industry is still vibrant, specifically in Alberta.”

Colbourne said Tolko invests not only in mill modernization but also in their employees. During the hiring process, Tolko flies the candidates and their families to the mill site even before a job offer is made, to show them how well-supported they will be.

“We are a family-oriented company, so we try to find an opportunity for the spouses too and try to find the perfect fit for other family members.”

Sold out event

Presentations were plentiful during the two-day event, with presenters from FPInnovations, Cortex, Burton Mill Solutions, Brunson, Sawco, Webco, Fuchs, Peerless Saw Company, and Corbilt sharing the latest trends, innovations, and equipment in saw filing.

BCSFA had to turn away some vendors who wanted to exhibit, having reached the maximum number of 46 booths at the 2024 BCSFA Convention. Photo: Annex Business Media.

BCSFA secretary and treasurer Matt Graves said this year’s attendees included international vendors from the United States, Europe, and New Zealand.

“We had a great turnout despite the current situation of the industry. It’s really great to see this kind of support,” Graves said.

BCSFA vice-president Scott Courtney added that the association had to turn away some vendors who wanted to exhibit, having reached the maximum number of 46 booths.

One exhibitor who asked not to be named said he was very happy with the event, saying, “Yes, it is smaller compared to other industry events, but the quality of people is good.”

BCSFA president Wright said he is hoping that next year’s event will be as successful, if not even bigger. The convention and expo will be back in Kamloops on May 9-10, 2025.

This article is part of CFI’s 2024 File Week. Find the File Week landing page here.

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