The only thing missing was the sawdust.

Carihi’s Multi-Purpose Room was full of student projects, industry professionals looking for prospective talent and informational displays touting the benefits of forestry Tuesday – including some of the equipment used in the trade. It was all part of the school’s annual Forestry Day.

Jason Kerluck, who teaches the school’s forestry program, was directing traffic around the room, touting his program to prospective students and directing current students to various booths and industry representatives who circulated, as well.

“The average age of a forestry worker on the coast is about 55,” Kerluck told the crowd of interested students assembled to hear one of his presentations, “and over the next decade, a lot of those workers are going to be retiring, and the industry will be needing to replace those jobs.”

In fact, Kerluck says, the industry needs to be training 96 logging machine operators, 95 logging truck drivers, 86 entry-level logging workers, 85 hand fallers, 78 heavy equipment operators and 37 heavy duty mechanics every year, according to research provided by Western Forest Products, just to keep up with the current demand.

And Carihi’s forestry program is one of only five high school forestry programs in the province, Kerluck says, which makes it difficult to keep up with the industry’s hiring needs.

Part of the reason there are so few programs is the lack of qualified instructors who want to teach them.

“I started out logging, and then went to school in forestry, and then did some engineering in forestry, and then went back to school to become a teacher,” Kerluck says, which obviously isn’t a path many high school teachers take.

“There are very few teachers who are like me – with a forestry background. For someone to take this on, they need to have that piece and be passionate about it.”

It’s also a lot of work.

“I have to create the curriculum, I have to get my own funding, I have to advertise and promote. It’s a lot of extra work, but it’s very rewarding.”

Jeff Lontayao, Carihi’s career facilitator, says they’re fortunate to have been given the opportunity to have a program like Kerluck’s.

“The school district and the school itself – and I know (Timberline) does this, too – have been really open to letting teachers teach their passion, to include the kids in your passion. It’s cool, because we’ve developed a ton of cool programs. It’s been fantastic.”

One of the district’s trustees, Ted Foster, was on hand to see the projects and take in the day, and echoed those sentiments.

“This is really excellent,” Foster says, looking around the room at the bustle of activity. “It’s a great opportunity for these kids to see what there is in terms of real work available and how that work really happens, and gives them a sense of whether it’s something they want to do.

“We really strive to give as many opportunities like this as we can to the kids when we have someone like (Kerluck), who has a passion and expertise in a subject and wants to pass it on.”

Lontayao says programs like Carihi’s forestry offerings add another, invaluable dimension to the education system that shouldn’t be overlooked.

“These kids, when they put on that vest, they feel like they’re somebody – like they have a purpose,” he says, beaming.

“It’s a huge confidence builder for them to have a direction,” he says, recounting the story of his own son, who took Carihi’s carpentry program.

“When he put on that uniform, his chest puffed out, and his eyes lit up,” he says.

“And that’s what this kind of thing does for these kids.”

That’s not all it does. Three bursaries of $500 were also given out at Forestry day for “Top Project,” “Top Student,” and “Top Worker,” meaning a few exceptional students were just given yet another leg up if they decide they want to get into that industry.

But Kerluck thinks the courses hold value even for students who decide forestry isn’t really for them.

“When they leave, regardless of whether they go into a career in it – some do and some don’t – they’ll have a better understanding of forestry and how it’s managed in the province, and at least be able to identify the trees around their campground when they go camping – and there’s value in that.”