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The industry is staging its first national jobs fair at next month’s annual PaperWeek Canada event in Montreal.Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The forestry sector is hiring again.

Pulp and paper companies expect to boost their work force by 60,000 over the next seven years, a significant turnaround for an industry that not so long ago was a basket case, laying off workers by the tens of thousands as mills shut down across the country.

The sector is coming through a painful period marked by low-cost competition from emerging markets, the collapse of the U.S. housing industry and the high Canadian dollar – not to mention the 2008 global recession. But today, the forestry industry is taking steps to reinvent itself by entering new markets and finding new roles in areas such as cosmetics, auto parts and jet fuel. Suddenly, once-struggling companies are rushing to fill a labour gap.

That means seeking out not only new employees in traditional jobs to replace an aging baby-boomer work force, but also more specialized, highly skilled people in such sectors as chemical engineering, international marketing and technology.

Forestry companies are also trying to win back skilled employees who were lured to lucrative work in the oil patch.

To meet the huge demand for new blood, the industry is staging its first national jobs fair at next month's annual PaperWeek Canada event in Montreal. Job seekers will get to meet recruiters from several major Canadian forestry companies, including Resolute Forest Products Inc., Domtar Corp. and Tembec Inc.

That help could not come soon enough for people like Mac Palmiere, whose Port Mellon, B.C., company is in desperate need for about a dozen skilled tradesmen.

"The baby boomers – that bubble's going through very rapidly. Over the last couple of years we're seeing a lot of retirement happening," the forestry industry veteran said.

Recruitment and hiring at the company used to be done on a part-time basis. Now, it's a full-time job, Mr. Palmiere said.

A major hiring hurdle for the industry will be overcoming an image problem, said David Lindsay, head of the Forest Products Association of Canada.

"Part of our public communications and promotion is to encourage people to look at forestry again as a career choice. We do have to turn around that story [of an outmoded industry] and that image a little bit."

James Lopez, president and chief executive officer of Tembec, says his recruiters are "out there aggressively promoting this industry as the industry of the future."

"People look around them at what is happening and they see newspaper use is down or they don't read them, but they don't see other parts of the industry around the world that are thriving," he said.

Besides the job fair, other tools FPAC is using in its jobs pitch include a new career website and a "Green Dream" student internship program that comes with a free iPad mini on which the winner will blog about the experience.

"We've had a dark decade," said Susan Murray, executive director of public relations at FPAC. "We need innovators and technologists and chemists."