An Introduction To The Forest Products Industry For Students And Recent Grads

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If you don’t know much about the forest products industry and its career opportunities, no one could blame you.

It’s a sector that has flown under the radar for much of the last decade, losing as many as 70,000 jobs in the wake of a stronger Canadian dollar, changes in the global economy, the increasing prevalence of digital media, and the U.S. housing market collapse and subsequent recession in 2008.

More recently, however, it seems as though the industry’s fortunes are changing.

There is increased global demand for traditional Canadian wood and paper products, and the innovative new technologies being developed here are capturing the attention of people around the world.

The only thing holding it back now, though, is a looming talent shortage.

Why the forest products industry needs you

According to a report released by the Forest Products Sector Council (FPSC) in 2011, it is estimated that more than one third of the industry’s aging workforce – about 50,000 people – will leave within the next 10 years.

“It’s hard to imagine that we’re facing labour challenges after shedding so many jobs,” says Jim Farrell, Executive Director of the FPSC, but the industry’s long-standing public perception and image problems coupled with its current demographics mean there just aren’t enough people to replace all of the Baby Boomers who are slated to retire.

The number of young people working in the sector is at a historical low compared to the overall workforce, so it may need to hire as many as 120,000 people by the year 2020.

About one third of forest products employers say they are already making significant efforts to target youth for recruitment into the sector, with many more sure to follow. It’s time to change your mind about Canada’s forest products industry because it might just be a solid place to start your career.

Find out which jobs are most in-demand in the forest products industry.

A leaner, greener forest products industry

Before we go any further, let’s address the elephants in the room: Clear-cutting. Deforestation. Environmentalists chaining themselves to trees to prevent them from being cut down. These are the images that probably come to mind when you think about the forest industry.

But the reality of Canada’s forest products sector today is much different than even a decade or two ago. It is now a world leader in environmental stewardship and sustainability; it has virtually zero deforestation and maintains more original, protected and certified forests than any other country in the world.

“The industry has done a very good job in reducing its environmental footprint,” Jim says. Learn more about the myths versus the realities of Canada’s forest products industry.

A huge part of this strategy includes the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, a conservation agreement between FPAC, its 21 member companies and nine leading environmental organizations, including Greenpeace. The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement all sides committed to working together in the realization of a stronger, more competitive forestry industry and a better protected, more sustainably managed Boreal Forest.

The agreement also recognizes the interests, treaty rights and titles of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and their governments.

Beyond lumber, pulp and paper

Canada’s forest products sector is carving a new path for itself that goes far beyond the traditional industry staples of lumber and paper.

“There’s more effort being made by companies as well as government to accelerate transformation in the industry,” Jim says. “We currently have eight research networks with 27 universities across the country.”

Those research networks are developing products such as antibiotics and pharmaceuticals, biofuels and bioplastics, glues, enzymes and paints, artificial flavours and fertilizers – all derived from Canadian wood, which is a completely renewable resource.

“This is the kind of thinking that, within 10 years, could put Canada’s forest products industry in a fundamentally different place than it was before,” Jim says.

“We’re going to need a whole bunch of smart, educated people to enter the industry.”

Could that be you? Visit TalentEgg’s Forest Products Career Guide to find everything you need to know about hatching a career in the forest products industry:

Forest Products Career Guide, student jobs and entry level jobs, Resolute Forest Products

Photo credit: USFS Region 5

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About the author

Cassandra Jowett is TalentEgg's Content Manager. She joined the team as a student intern in the summer of 2008, and since then her heart has never really left the Egg Carton. Cassandra is a recent graduate of the Ryerson University School of Journalism, where she earned a Bachelor of Journalism with a focus in writing and editing for newspapers. She has also written and edited for The Globe and Mail, The National Post, t.o.night newspaper and other publications.