Skip to content

Technology changing face of forestry education (4/02)

By Michael Lynch For decades the forest products industry and the institutions of higher learning in Thunder Bay ignored each other. Forest industry demographics and new sophisticated technology in the bush and mills changed everything.

By Michael Lynch

For decades the forest products industry and the institutions of higher learning in Thunder Bay ignored each other. Forest industry demographics and new sophisticated technology in the bush and mills changed everything.

The two sectors are now working together to meet the demands of the industry. Entry positions require highly trained workers to manoeuvre technologically advanced forest- harvesting equipment around the bush. Pulp and paper mills want to hire people who have the most up-to-date training to handle increasingly complex mill jobs.

Economic development efforts in Thunder Bay have also changed. At one time, efforts were directed almost exclusively to attracting elusive car assembly plants and small manufacturing facilities. The forest products industry was regarded as a sunset industry.

Today the industry is back in focus. The city is marketing Thunder Bay as Forest Centre of Excellence and has recently launched a forest-related business opportunities proposal.

The proposal has been sent to more than 500 forest-related businesses across Canada and United States.

"Thunder Bay offers excellent opportunities for investors seeking locations for new forest-related investment," says Nancy Creighton, manager of the city's development arm.

"Whether it be in value-added manufacturing of lumber products, capitalizing on wood process residues or exploring the forest floor to develop new products, forest-related business opportunities exist in Thunder Bay," Creighton says.

Both Lakehead University and Confederation College are now part of the Forest Centre of Excellence project.

"We are doing what Sudbury did with mining," says Reino Pukki, Lakehead's dean of forestry and forest environment.

"There has been a real drive in the forest community to make Thunder Bay a centre of excellence in forest research, education and the development of forestry products and services," he says.

Pukki says Thunder Bay is the largest wood-consuming area in Eastern Canada, second only to Prince George in all of Canada. He is also optimistic about the potential for value-added products.

"We need to develop jobs out of the wood we harvest," Pukki says.

This fall, Confederation College will be offering a forestry worker/operator program, a forestry technician program and a mechanical engineering technician program.

"We believe it is incumbent on us to prepare a workforce for the forestry sector," says Patricia Lang, president of the college.

"The forestry sector is the main economic engine of northwestern Ontario," Lang says. "And the success of the college is intrinsically linked to the success of the community."

Lang says the initiation of the college's new programs "would not be possible without the strong support of Buchanan Forest Products, Ontario Equipment Services, Tormont CAT and Wajax Industries." She is also thankful for the assistance of business, industry, education and government partners.

A unique feature of both programs is the integration of Aboriginal approaches to forest and land resource development and entrepreneurship.

"A number of First Nation communities are entering into forestry agreements, and these communities will require a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce," says Brenda Small, dean of Negahneewin College.

Confederation College competed with other colleges for the funds to establish the forest industry training programs.

"It was a very competitive process sponsored by the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, and we were successful," says Don Bernosky, chair of the college's industry and electronics technology department. The ministry approved $2,662,156 for the initiative.

The college launched a $5-million fundraising capital campaign to fully fund its new programs. To date it has raised $3.5 million worth of equipment, including a delimber, feller buncher and a grapple skidder.

"We're raising money for three-dimensional simulators," says Lang. The simulators are a training tool that replicates what it is like to be on a machine in the bush.

Bernosky says the college is in the process of recruiting staff to teach the programs and adds there is a lot of expertise available in northwestern Ontario.

In the two-year forestry technician program, students will acquire the theoretical knowledge and technical skills needed to work effectively in the forest industry.

The forestry worker operator program is a 36-week certificate program that will provide graduates with the necessary skills to work as entry-level forestry workers, with an emphasis on equipment operation.

The mechanical engineering diploma program involves six semesters. The course of study will develop highly skilled personnel capable of meeting the constantly changing demands brought on by advancing technologies in pulp and paper mills.

The next phase for the college, Bernosky says, is the establishment of a forestry centre. The centre will be responsible for applied research and development and will work in conjunction with the university.

The research the college will be conducting will include such areas as mechanical harvesting, ergonomics, environmental impacts and equipment emissions.

"We will provide the data and a university will do the analysis," Bernosky says.

Graduates of the two-year programs will be eligible to enter Lakehead University upon graduation as a result of an articulation agreement signed between the college and the university. They will enter the second year of a university program.