A shortage of skilled tradespeople could put a damper on the upswing in the forest sector, according to Unifor.

The union says steady jobs, with pay up to $42 per hour at some northwestern Ontario mills, are hard to fill because there are few qualified candidates.

Mills in the region are now competing for employees, a situation that could price smaller companies out of business, Unifor national representative Stephen Boon said.

“The wages are very lucrative right now and the resumes should be flowing in quite steadily and they’re not,” Boon said.

“At the end of the day somebody will be stuck with a mill that will not be able to recruit the proper tradespeople to run that operation effectively, efficiently and at full production,” he said.

80 per cent turnover

The downturn in the oil industry and the slow mining economy is a “saving grace”, freeing up some workers for the forest sector, Boon said.

That’s countered by a demographic juggernaut with most current employees due to retire, he said, and some mills seeing up to an 80 per cent turnover in a five year period.

Boon said the federal government failed to heed the union’s warning two years ago about the need for a training and development plan to deal with looming shortage of tradespeople.

Seth Kursman agrees that government has a role in training, but the spokesperson for Resolute Forest Products also sees the recruitment challenge as a marketing problem for an industry that struggled through much of the last decade.

“The fact that we went through such difficult times for such a long time, I think that’s been a bit of a stain on the reputation of the industry,” Kursman said.

Now, however, the industry is growing again, particularly in northwestern Ontario where Resolute has made significant investments recently.

“We need to do a better job of promoting ourselves as an industry so that people realize that when they’re in Ontario, they don’t have to go out to the oil patch to get a job,” he said.

Resolute is on track to hire 4,250 people between 2014 and 2018, many of them tradespeople, Seth Kursman said.

“We will need to refresh more than 50 per cent of our workforce by 2018,” he said. “It’s an exciting opportunity.”