Vancouver Island First Nation hosts career fair to connect forest companies with jobseekers as retiring baby boomers herald labor shortage; industry official predicts 'mass turnover', sees skilled labor gap as biggest concern

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan , March 5, 2014 () – Forestry urgently needs young people to join the industry, as Vancouver Island companies are bracing for an expected labour shortage when baby boomers retire in the coming years.

The importance of attracting young people to fill upcoming vacancies was evident at the Nuu-chah-nulth Employment and Training Program Career Fair in the Alberni Athletic Hall Tuesday.

The event was organized by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council to connect job seekers with companies. Classes from the nearby Alberni District Secondary School and the Alternative Programs VAST Centre visited the career fair throughout the day.

"We provide services for any aboriginals, but we figure for an event this big we'd prefer to have it open to everybody," said Andy Callicum, who supervises the tribal council's employment training program.

Callicum belongs to the Logging Industry Working Group, a collective of companies and union organizations involved in forestry. The working group forecasted that at least 500 forestry positions will need to be filled on the Island in the next few years, bringing challenges for companies to attract enough new workers.

"They're not meeting those targets by a long shot because they can't compete with oil and gas," Callicum said.

He added that the money to be made on oilfields can be alluring to many young people willing to work.

"They offer year-round employment, they offer a higher salary - it's a no-brainer for a lot of people," Callicum said. "But there is a huge need that's coming up here on the Island in forestry, and so we want to help to bridge people into those positions."

Kevin Somerville, operations manager with Western Forest Products, expects an approaching wave of employees retiring will bring an employment gap for the logging company.
"There's going to be a mass turnover," he said. "You just look at the demographics of the people."

While openings are expected in all areas of the industry, Somerville said the biggest concern is skilled labour, such as specialized equipment operators. "The challenge in operations is most of those positions are seniority-based," he said. "Your skilled positions, that's where our older demographics are."

To help with this expected shortage the local high school brought back its forestry program in 2009 after the class was discontinued years before. Although the forestry industry was suffering from an economic downturn, ADSS anticipated opportunities would arise once students entered the workforce.

This year 30 students are enrolled in the Grade 11 class and 24 take the Grade 12 course. The forestry classes introduce students to how a forest grows and is affected by humans.

"It's a comprehensive program looking at all of the different jobs, skills and knowledge students need in order to understand the industry and seek employment in it," said Ryan Dvorak, who teaches the high school forestry classes.

"The students that have an aptitude to go into forestry, it gives them a full range of exposure," added Somerville. "It kind of gives them the spectrum of what the industry is all about." 250-723-8171, ext. 26

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