As it turns out, jobs do grow on trees — or at least they do in British Columbia, which is experiencing a bit of a forestry job renaissance.

“The industry in B.C. has been working through a difficult period,” says James Gorman, President and CEO of the Council of Forest Industries (COFI). “Things are on the upswing and headed in a very positive direction.”

But the industry has its work cut out for them when it comes to filling jobs.

According to a report on labour trends issued by the Truck Loggers Association (TLA), the voice of the independent forest contractors in the coastal region of B.C., the province is going to have 16,000 job openings to fill in the forest industry by 2022.

That’s an average of 1,600 jobs each year with about 60 per cent of total openings in the interior and 40 per cent on the coast.

“We talk about the looming skills shortage, but it’s not looming, it’s here,” says Gorman.

Head-to-head

As the baby boomer generation and the aging population at the fringes spills over to retirement, demand for everything from loggers to mill workers and truck drivers has continued to grow.

The booming LNG sector in the province — though wonderful for the economy — has also pulled away contractors and changed the dynamics of how the industries look to recruit top talent.

“For workers with young families, the prospect of being able to go home post-work, while still earning the high level salaries that the natural resources sector is known for, continues to be a major selling point.”

“We’re dealing with a finite and shrinking pool of labour and it makes for a much more competitive situation,” he says. “It’s going to be a seller’s market not a buyer’s market.”

Translation: wage increases and perks to lure talent to the forest.

Only in the forest

From Dwight Yochim, Executive Director of the TLA’s perspective, working in the industry sells itself. “You’re sitting there in the cab overlooking a valley and that’s your view, that’s your office,” he says.

For workers with young families, the prospect of being able to go home post-work, while still earning the high level salaries — $75,000 to $125,000 — that the natural resources sector is known for, continues to be a major selling point.

“Camp life is not really part of our industry,” says Gorman. “Our industry is offering a reliable, well-paying job that allows you to have a regular shift and it’s a family supporting job, one that allows you to stay within the community that you can afford to buy a house in, unlike downtown Vancouver.”

Ongoing education

With constantly evolving foresting technology and new burgeoning research and innovation in wood fiber technology, there are also a slew of new jobs available in addition to the traditional spots like millwrights and saw filers.

“We need people who have robotics, computer engineering and computer science backgrounds,” says Gorman. “This is not your grandfather’s forest industry.”

“I’ve been in the industry for about 30 years and I’m still learning about the environment. You’ll never learn it all, you’ll just keep learning.”

The constant state of flux means that many companies partner up with learning institutions, making continuing education another component of the job.

“Great employees are a key competitive advantage,” says Ted Seraphim, President and CEO of West Fraser wood products. “We invest in employee education through a lot of different programs, such as apprenticeships or on-the-job training — it is part of our culture to invest in developing our employees and to promote people within the company.”

The company has also teamed up with the College of New Caledonia. But the education doesn’t just occur in the classroom, adds Yochim.

“I’ve been in the industry for about 30 years and I’m still learning about the environment,” he says. “You’ll never learn it all, you’ll just keep learning.”

Oh, and don’t expect a dull day.

“It’s very difficult to get bored,” adds Yochim.