Selkirk College Forest Technology Program alumnus Jean Christie returned to her roots on the Castlegar Campus earlier this month in hopes of finding eager recruits to join her on the industry frontlines with West Fraser Timber.
Christie is a rising star within her company and the industry. Graduating from Selkirk College in 2010, Christie first went to work for West Fraser as a summer student at the forestry giant’s Quesnel operation. Last year, Christie was included in the “Top 20 Under 40” article in Wood Business Magazine as one of the young forestry leaders in Canada.
Selkirk College alumnus Jean Christie was on the Castlegar Campus in early October as part of a West Fraser Timber recruiting trip. With the forest industry in need of trained workers, the Selkirk College Forest Technology Program is seen as an asset for employers.
In early-October, Christie took a break from duties as silviculture coordinator to join a West Fraser recruiting trip aimed at reaching out to post-secondary schools across Western Canada.
“The reputation of Selkirk College is very good, it has a super solid forestry program,” she said after the presentation. “We are looking for people who have completed their two-year diploma program, and with training provided by us, are ready to go into these positions.”
West Fraser visits colleges and universities annually, focusing on programs at BCIT, the University of Alberta, College of New Caledonia (Prince George) and UNBC (Prince George). This month’s visit to Selkirk College was West Fraser’s first dip into the West Kootenay and was set up at the urging of Christie.
“It’s a little out of the way to come to Selkirk, but the incentive is there this year to expand our pool and bring in the strong students that Selkirk has as potential candidates,” said Christie.
The Right Start at Selkirk College
Christie was born-and-raised in Prince Edward Island where both of her parents worked in the forest industry and continue to operate a privately owned woodlot. With a love for the outdoors, Christie came out west when she was 20 to explore all the Kootenays had to offer.
Though she did not intend to follow in the footsteps of her parents, after three winters of working in the oil and gas industry Christie decided to change it up and enrolled at Selkirk College.
Christie first arrived to West Fraser Timber in Quesnel as a summer student in 2010 and is now in a position where she will oversee the planting of 3.5 million trees in 2015.
“The time I spent at Selkirk was wonderful,” she said. “While I was there I knew I was learning a lot, but it wasn’t really until I started working in forestry that I truly realized the strength of the program that Selkirk has.”
Christie was an outstanding student, winning the prestigious Canadian Institute of Forestry Gold Medal award in her final year. Christie credits her instructors for the passion they instilled over her two years on the Castlegar Campus.
“The silviculture programs at Selkirk were extremely complete and I think that had to do with the instructor I had,” she said. “Carol Andrews is such an engaged, passionate, intelligent and wonderful instructor… she really had a big influence on me.”
Looking for the Next Wave
The forest industry has a history of peaks and valleys. After weathering some recent low points, the industry is currently experiencing a strong comeback. With the surge comes a need for qualified people to fill the spots.
“There is a real desperate need for forest techs right now,” said Andrews, who has also fielded calls from other forest companies interested in stopping by Selkirk to speak with students. “Companies are being very proactive in recruiting at this point.”
In her presentation, Christie explained that West Fraser is a company with a robust summer internship program and likes to promote from within its ranks. One of the largest lumber producers in the world, the publicly-traded company has operations across North America.
The students who took in the presentation were impressed with what they heard.
“You have to look long term and they did a good job of getting us to think about long term prospects,” said second year Forest Technology student Adam Flintoft. “Things like benefits and the way they look after employees goes a long way.”
Though he still has a few months of study left, Flintoft is looking forward to what will come after graduation this spring.
“Having worked with some forestry veterans this summer, this is a great time to be starting in this industry,” he said. “People have seen ups and downs, people have been forced to leave and are coming back now. It’s a good time to be thinking about this kind of career.”
West Fraser followed up by holding interviews for summer positions on-site at Selkirk College. Facilitated by the college’s Co-Op Education & Employment Services (CEES), the interviews help students plan for what comes next.
“We’re not just educating the students…. this is their future,” said CEES Administrative Assistant Olga Sherstobitoff. “When they walk out the door we want them to have opportunities and hope for the future, which we want to set in motion before they leave here.”