The City of Timmins and industry partners are investigating the feasibility of establishing a forestry innovation and training centre in Timmins.

Mayor Steve Black said the idea was broached by the last term of council, and he’s taken it forward to the province to start preliminary discussions.

“We know the forestry industry’s in a rebound and is going to be growing over the next few years,” Black said. “Finding that skilled workforce is going to be one of those challenges.”

In August, during the annual meeting of the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO), Black spoke about the training centre with Natural Resources Minister Bill Mauro and Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle, who both expressed initial support for the idea.

Gravelle told Black he would help set up a meeting with Reza Moridi, the minister of training, colleges and universities, to further the discussions.

Black has already been in contact with local industry partners; in particular, Millson Forestry has been a leading proponent of the idea.

The mayor noted that, like mining and other industries in the North, forestry companies are struggling to find skilled workers when they need them. The training centre would help alleviate that strain.

“We’re trying to set up an innovation training centre that would have paid apprenticeships to train students in the industry, from the start of the process right through to the final process, including the hauling and truck drivers, harvesting, and planting — basically all the steps,” Black said.

“It also provides the companies an opportunity to have a trained workforce coming out of the program, so that they’re not struggling to find people, and dealing with people that aren’t trained, and then having to find a way to train them in the different stages of the operations.”

There would also be an innovation component to the centre, although to what extent hasn’t yet been established.

“There’s always a desire to try out new processes and new technology, and hopefully between the partnerships with the college and industry, they can work on some of those as well,” Black said.

He noted that partnerships could also be set up with the city’s educational institutions — Northern College, Collège Boréal and Université de Hearst — and potentially play a role in helping to provide the accreditation for the centre.

Establishing a new training institution would provide a win-win situation for the city, since it would add to the educational opportunities already available in Timmins, which serves as hub for training and education in the region, Black said. It could also have a significant economic development impact for Timmins.

Preliminary discussions with industry partners have been positive, but further meetings are needed to work out logistics, such as how current wood allocations would be used. But Black said the city is happy to put its support behind the idea.

“If we can provide the innovation centre on the forestry side to help alleviate that problem as the industry grows and succeeds in the coming years, we’re happy to do so,” he said.

A meeting is being planned for this month for stakeholders to meet with the province to discuss details further.