BY BILL PHILLIPS
There were more than just forest company executives in the crowd at the Council of Forest Industry convention in Prince George last week.
Truck loggers, who are largely responsible for getting logs to the mills for those forest companies, were also keenly interested in the future of forestry and in what Premier John Horgan had to say about the industry.
“It was great to hear a commitment from the premier and the government ministers,” said David Elstone, executive director of the organization that represents about 500 truck logging companies across the province. “They are trying to demonstrate that they do care.”
However, the truck loggers are facing challenging times, even as lumber prices stay at more than $500 per thousand board feet. That increased cash flow isn’t necessarily making its way to truck loggers.
“Many multi-generation contracting businesses that have contributed to the success of their communities are now considering leaving the business altogether,” said Elstone. “This is in sharp contrast to the major sawmill businesses in the province experiencing record-high commodity and lumber prices. It’s time to do something about this.”
The B.C. government is in the process of a Contractor Sustainability Review and Elstone said the truck loggers are anxiously awaiting the results, which were due to be released March 31 but are still forthcoming. He said he hopes the review will help “level the playing field” for truck loggers.
The review will identify areas of opportunity to improve the sustainability and competitiveness of contractors and licensees in B.C.’s forest sector.
The first phase is an economic assessment and review of the contracting sector to develop baseline information and identify economic drivers within the sector. This will be followed up by a facilitated process to define issues and potential actions that all parties can support to improve competitiveness of both contractors and licensees.
An independent third party will be selected by contractors, licensees and government through a collaborative process to be the facilitator.
Another issue facing truck loggers is finding skilled labour.
A needs analysis prepared by the association projected 4,700 job openings in the sector between now and 2022. About 95 per cent of those are due to current truck loggers retiring. About, 75 per cent of the projected job openings are in job categories already experiencing high vacancy rates, such as hand fallers (17 per cent), forestry workers including professionals (13 per cent) and logging machine operators (seven per cent) and/or skill shortages. Attracting and training new people is a challenge, said Elstone.
“It takes so much to get new people up to speed,” he said. “We just have to make sure to create a positive image of our industry.”