For more than 60 years, the Interior Logging Association (ILA) has been a strong and influential voice for the forestry sector in BC’s Southern Interior region. The ILA represents the interests of its members on government policy and decision-making, from logging contractors, road contractors and trucking companies to forestry consultants, mills and suppliers of goods and services. The impacts of these policies affect over 50,000 workers, including 5,300 Indigenous workers, who are employed in forestry province-wide.
The industry has weathered major challenges over the years, but 2021 was particularly difficult. “Many forestry-dependent towns are suffering due to declines in allowable cuts, preservation of old-growth forests, floods and wildfires, pandemic restrictions and a lack of skilled workers,” says ILA General Manager Todd Chamberlain. “We’ve spent the last few years talking about contractor sustainability, but now we also need to focus on sustainable communities.”
Taking Stock of Industry Needs
In 2021, with grant funding provided by the Economic Trust of Southern Interior (ETSI-BC), the ILA was able to hire a consultant specialized in the delivery of business support services. Consultant Meagan Preston began by reaching out to every ILA member to assess if and where they needed help. The research showed that having sufficient operational funds is a priority for members, yet most have little to no experience seeking loans or finding grants. Businesses also require help with strategic planning to diversify, pivot and grow, and to attract new workers as many current workers and business owners approach retirement.
Within five months of launching the program, the ILA provided over 200 members with information on loans and grants, networking connections, business planning assistance, and links to job opportunities. The association began collaborating with members on ways to help the industry overall, including reducing waste and creating more efficient production methods. It also assisted members with non-disclosure agreements, patents, design, and prototyping.
As awareness and uptake for the support services grew, ETSI-BC provided additional funding to extend the program through 2022. The focus in this second phase is on diversification strategies and helping members identify sources of funding for training, hiring and efficiency improvements.
For many companies to diversify and perform alternative types of work, they must sell, convert, or buy new equipment. The ILA created a database to help connect members who have equipment for sale with members looking to buy equipment. It also partnered with the Nakusp and Area Community Forest (NACFOR), a BC corporation owned by the Village of Nakusp that manages a forest land base of over 9,000 hectares. Both partners are compiling databases that will help connect ILA members with Small Forest Tenure holders to employ future contractors.
Training Partnership Supports a Skilled and Inclusive Workforce
To attract sufficient skilled workers into the industry, the ILA is partnering with the BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) to promote and deliver the Forest Workers Essentials training program. The program provides classroom and field training as well as mentoring from ILA members. Mentors are paid for their time and in the process, gain a valuable source of future employees. Entrepreneurial-minded program graduates will create new business start-ups and jobs in the communities where they operate. NVIT is a recognized Indigenous institution and training will include First Nations education on respecting the land during logging processes.
“Without the support from ETSI-BC, the ILA would not have been able to explore these opportunities to stabilize and grow the industry,” says Chamberlain. “Many members have contacted us to say thank you for reaching out and providing this kind of support.”
“The value of these initiatives will be realized beyond the ILA membership by forestry workers throughout the province,” adds Laurel Douglas, Executive Director of ETSI-BC. “Forestry will continue to face challenges but will remain strong and resilient no matter what the future may hold.”