Vancouver Island's recovering forest industry 'inundated' with applications from oil, gas workers; many are residents who left to find work after US housing crash

NANAIMO, British Columbia , January 21, 2014 () – An influx of Nanaimo-area residents who work north in the oilpatch are now looking for work in Vancouver Island's recovering forestry industry.

Many Nanaimo forestry workers lost jobs with the crash of the American housing market in 2007, which was the main market for B.C.'s forest exports, but now city employers are seeing a turnaround and have jobs to fill.

The news comes after an announcement from the provincial government that exports of softwood lumber from B.C. have reached record highs, thanks to increased sales to China, Japan and the U.S. An spike in forestry jobs is good news for oil workers who spend weeks separated from their families and want to enjoy the Island lifestyle full-time, but who had no luck in the Island's forestry industry in the past.

Don Banasky, the operations manager at CopCan Contracting Ltd. and FallTech Logging in Nanaimo, said that his desk is covered with resumes from oil field workers.

"A lot of these guys live locally and work away," Banasky said.

"The main thing to consider is that some workers left the forestry industry to go to oil and gas, now I'm seeing some of those resumes cross my desk."

Banasky, who is also the current president of the Truck Loggers Association, added that he is hiring and will be interviewing people for spring jobs soon.

"It's an exciting time. There's a lot of growth expected," he said.

"I know the oil patch likely pays more, but we have extremely well paying jobs. And there's no office like working in the forest."

Rick Parcher, who lives in Port Alberni, is one example.

He grew up in forestry but got a job in oil and gas after not being able to find a stable work in his field.

But got tired of being away from his wife and two daughters for three weeks at a time while only being home for one.

He returned to forestry last summer, and currently works as a change hand for Alternative Forest Operations just outside Chemainus.

Bridger Schmidt, who manages Alternative Forest Operations, said in a release that skills developed in oil and gas can be transferred back to forestry.

"I attract and retain people on my crew by selling the West Coast lifestyle and quality of life," Schmidt said.

"Money isn't everything." But while local companies are being inundated with applications, some workers are still being lured north by big money.

Levi Sampson, president of Harmac Pacific, said his company is constantly going through the process of hiring new people because of its aging workforce.

He occasionally hires people with experience in the oil fields and said the skill sets required in the two industries are similar, but he can more easily recall employees he's lost.

"Even recently, we've lost a couple of our power engineers because they have gone to work in oil," he said.

"There's a lot of money to be made up north, I guess."

CMcKenna@nanaimodailynews.com 250-729-4230

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