Manager at Tolko's Soda Creek division in Williams Lake, British Columbia, highlights lack of local training facilities for employees, warns of threat to industry as skilled workers retire

WILLIAMS LAKE, British Columbia , February 1, 2012 () – There is a lack of trades people and an inability to train people in Williams Lake, says Tolko Industries Ltd. plant manager Ryan Oliver.

Reporting to members at the Williams Lake & District Chamber of Commerce luncheon Jan. 26, Oliver said if industry wants to start an apprenticeship locally with employees, they have to be sent as far away as Cranbrook.

It doesn't seem right, he said, adding there are a few different trades that are in jeopardy right now.

"Two examples are saw filing and planer men schooling. Right now the province does not have anywhere you can actually go to school for this," Oliver said, adding with the downturn in the industry it wasn't a huge issue, but considering the numbers of anticipated retirees in the near future, it's going to be a serious threat.

Another big shortage in the bush is the amount of logging truck drivers, Oliver warned.

"All that equipment runs one shift and you can imagine how much capital that is. It just sits overnight. There is no other shift that runs that equipment," Oliver said.

Oliver extended thanks to Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett, who was at the luncheon, for her efforts in advocating for trades training dollars for the region.

Tolko has added its commitment to an application that has gone to the Ministry of Advanced Education's Labour Market Solutions program for a truck-driver training program to be offered through Thompson Rivers University's North Trades and Technology division in Williams Lake.

In addition to Tolko and TRU, the program would be offered in collaboration with other industry stake holders, including the Truck Loggers Association and the Interior Loggers Association.

City council endorsed the application unanimously at its Jan. 24 meeting.

Coun. Surinderpal Rathor said the training is much needed in the community.

"I've heard the average age of logging truck drivers is 65. We need younger operators coming in," Rathor said.

The deadline for the applications was Jan. 31.

Leila Hazemi from the Ministry of Advanced Education said there's no timeline determined yet for when applicants will learn whether they've been successful.

"It's a new program and it's unknown what volume of applications we'll get, so we can't gauge it, but every effort will be made to get back to applicants as soon as possible," Hazemi said, adding the programs funded through Labour Market Solutions must be completed by March 2014.

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