Most reading this know firsthand about how Canada’s forestry sector has undergone unprecedented change over the last 10 years. A perfect storm of factors – the high value of the loonie, reduced U.S. housing starts, stalled newsprint markets, rising energy costs, unprecedented global competition, the softwood lumber dispute – have together created recent industry conditions unseen since the Great Depression.
Collectively, these factors cut industry employment by just less than half, from a high of approximately 260,000 direct jobs in 2003 to about 150,000 at present.
But the wood industry is resilient. Like its founding fathers – the men who helped give birth to this nation by toiling in the lumber camps from before dawn ’til after dusk – it’s a scrappy fighter, and on an upward swing again. However, just as the industry ramps back up, especially on Canada’s west coast, another set of thorny factors is rearing its ugly head. It’s turning out that recruiting the workers needed for the industry to hold its own, let alone grow, may be the biggest challenge yet.
One of the toughest challenges is the magnitude of expected retirements. More than half of the sector’s workforce is at least 45 years old. Based on current demographics as well as past retirement and attrition patterns, it’s estimated that during the next 10 years more than 50,000 workers will be gone. (These and other results are explained in the 2011 Forest Products Sector Council labourmarket report Renewing Canada’s Greenest Workforce)
This 50,000 loss represents approximately one-third of the industry’s current workfor