After a decade of downsizing, Canada’s forestry sector is gearing for a recruitment drive to attract young workers during an industry upswing.
A new website for the hiring campaign, TheGreenestWorkforce.ca, will be launched Monday night. David Lindsay, president of the Forest Products Association of Canada, will formally kick off the campaign by delivering the keynote speech on Wednesday in Montreal to the PaperWeek Canada conference and job fair.
Companies that sell lumber, pulp and paper are clamouring for the attention of applicants who would otherwise be drawn to the higher pay offered in the energy sector. Part of their sales pitch is a belief that working in sawmills and other rural forestry sites means a better work-life balance than toiling in the oil patch.
“We’re trying to connect with the next generation as they think about a career path,” Mr. Lindsay said in an interview.
Experts predict Canada’s forestry companies will need to hire at least 60,000 people over the next seven years, with 40,000 of those replacing retiring baby boomers and 20,000 new positions created, as a stronger U.S. housing market brings more work to the sawmills.
Mr. Lindsay said the forestry sector offers decent wages, $40 an hour or more for certain skilled trades. Forestry jobs will appeal to youth who want to work close to where they live, in contrast to many energy jobs that require staff to fly into and out of the oil sands in northern Alberta for weeks at a time, he added.
“We’re in a competition for talent, but it’s not just competition based on cash remuneration alone,” Mr. Lindsay said. “Some of the people who went to the oil patch made good coin, but they decided after some period of time that it wasn’t the quality of life that they wanted.
“In forestry, you can go home at night, you can fish or skate on the lake and enjoy the outdoors.”
Under an internship contest on the new website, forestry applicants will be encouraged to upload videos to YouTube. The top five job-seekers (as measured by number of votes) in each of the eight paid internship openings will be guaranteed an interview. Of the eight forestry interns who land jobs, one will win a $5,000 cash prize, but all of them will receive iPad minis.
“For years, forestry has been seen as a dead or dying sector, and the industry has to correct that image with young people to show that that there are lots of opportunities for growth, and you can make a worthwhile career out of it,” said Mark Kennedy, an analyst with CIBC World Markets Inc.
Mr. Kennedy said it is understandable that forestry officials are trying innovative ways to attract workers – including electricians, engineers and millwrights – who might otherwise go straight to the oil patch or other fields such as mining or manufacturing.
One of the challenges will be getting students and young skilled workers to tune into the sector’s pitch that forests are a renewable resource. “It’s a green industry and we’re conscious of the environmental footprint that we have,” Mr. Lindsay said. He defended logging companies against criticisms from some environmentalists, who allege that timber harvesting often encroaches on sensitive areas.
Lumber prices have tripled over the past four years as the long-suffering industry makes a comeback. The stage has been set for an extended rally in lumber markets: U.S. housing starts are rebounding and demand from China is getting stronger, while timber supplies are lower and sawmills must scramble to keep up with orders. While pulp and paper makers are still facing challenges, they also need fresh recruits.
The Forest Products Association of Canada is working in partnership with the federal government to unveil the recruitment campaign this week. The country’s foresters employed more than 370,000 workers a decade ago. New technology and increased automation replaced many positions, but an industry slump also led to the loss of thousands of jobs. Forestry employment declined to an estimated 233,000 workers in 2011, the latest year for forestry statistics nationally.
Employees, especially those with skilled trades, are needed. “Getting the wood out of the forest and into the wood yards doesn’t just happen with the snap of a finger,” Mr. Lindsay said. “You have to get the whole supply chain up and running.”