A cutting-edge high skills training program for prospective forestry workers is set to start in three B.C. communities this summer, including Cranbrook.
Stillwater Consulting, a Cranbrook company that developed the program over the past few years, is offering it to more than 100 prospective students in Kamloops, Nanaimo and Cranbrook, with the help of $3.3 million in provincial government funding from the BC Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.
The aim, says Stillwater President Jody McInnes, is to help students finds their niche and their passion and help them get there, and to help supply the forestry industry with the skilled workers it desperately needs.
“What students find out is that there is so much more to forestry … beyond the cutting down trees or driving a logging truck,” McInnes told the Townsman.
“There’s a lot of work that happens prior to harvesting as well, there’s a lot of work that happens after harvesting within the silviculture side of things — with a lot of boots on the ground and a lot of people needed to do some of that work. The tree planting, the brushing, the spacing, the forest management, the laying out the blocks, work around riparian areas, work around looking at soil, at insects. A lot of field-based work needs to happen.”
And employers in the industry are struggling to find the skilled people to do this work, McInnes said.
“Out in the field, we’re finding a lot of the people that were previously doing this work are retiring or scheduled to retire, and there’s a significant gap between those people and the new people coming up.”
Exacerbating the problem is the negative perception surrounding the industry, caused by things like mill closures and cutbacks.
“People want to steer clear of [forestry],” McInnes said. “Meanwhile, you still have employers saying ‘we can’t get skilled people — we’re having a tough time finding people that are technically savvy.'”
The first intake of students into the 19-week program was in Kamloops, July 22. The Cranbrook and Nanaimo intakes are set for August 12.
The program is very intense, hands-on, and in line with current industry trends and technologies. Stillwater — a project management firm — developed the program in Cranbrook, working with the College of the Rockies and local employers, and constantly refining the training to make sure it stayed current and relevant. The success rate of its graduates was very high, and word began to spread around the province. Stillwater started getting requests from other areas for the program.
“We’re very cautious, to make sure it’s needed there, that there is the support locally so that these people will have some opportunities when they’re done,” McInnes said. “It seems like it happened really quickly, but for us it’s been in the works for a while. We were getting a lot of enquiries about the advanced program, and if it was ever going to leave Cranbrook, and when could it go elsewhere.”
Now, on behalf of government, Stillwater Consulting is delivering the Advanced Forestry Training program in the three communities, whereby students will earn 11 different industry certifications, including silviculture surveyor certification, occupational first aid — level 3 and basic chainsaw operator. The program includes a three-week job placement with local forestry employers.
“We put in an application [to deliver the program], and went through that process,” McInnes said. “We thought the time was right, and the ministry thought the same thing. That it was time to go forward.”
Thirty-six people in each community are accepted into the program.
“If people are interested, they need to contact their local WorkBC office and discuss eligibility, because there are some parameters around who is eligible,” McInnes said. “Then we get a list and interview everybody who is eligible.
“We look at it from the view that this is a major investment for the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. Part of our job is to be really good stewards of that investment, and really look at who will do really well with that investment. So why do people want to take it. Is this going to propel them into that next step into forestry or related resource-based field?
“We’re looking for people who have some drive, some commitment. It’s a hard program. It’s long — 19 weeks — and very intense, and very hands on. There are some high level certifications that come with it. Very intensive training at times. So we’re looking for people who are committed, that really want to make the most of this investment.”
McInnes said that the program offers opportunities in a matter of months, that before, “traditionally” was a matter of years.
“The reality is that people coming into this field, whether it’s forestry or resource-based jobs, is that they’re able to get in, and move fairly quickly and advance their careers. We’ve found people who five years ago knew nothing about forestry are now in management level positions. 20 years ago that wouldn’t have happened.”
Stillwater also offers training programs related to silviculture and wildfire training that are much shorter — 30 days or so.
“The model is the same,” McInnes said. “70 per cent in the field hands-on and 30 per cent theory. We really focus on teaching towards the student, rather than the student trying to change their learning style to adapt to us. We blend in how we present things with auditory, visual, tactile — the hands-on aspect — and if the student is not understanding it we put the onus on ourselves to change how we’re presenting it. We give a high staff to student ratio, lots of focus on small group work, and all very relevent. We’re constantly revising our curriculum looking for industry specific feedback.”
For more information about the Advancing Forestry Training Program, go to https://www.stillwaterconsultingltd.com/advanced-forestry-program, or call WorkBC at 250-489-5517.