Foreign lumberjacks are needed for the Prince George woods. Like the RCMP uniform was redesigned for women and Sikh members, and Hockey Night In Canada has a Punjabi language broadcast, now the iconic Mackinaw jacket and buckers' pants outfit gets an international update.
The reason for the need to outfit newcomers in plaid and visi-gear, said Central Interior Loggers Association executive director MaryAnne Arcand, is the lack of Canadians willing to sling a chainsaw over their shoulders or climb up into the cab of a tree processor.
The gaping hole in forestry workers is not because there is no work, but there is less work going on because of the gaping hole, she explained, and it is hurting the local economy at the family level.
"We have logging companies with 60 per cent of their capital investment, their iron, sitting idle," she explained to an audience of new Canadians, politicians and officials from economic development agencies. "They are having to turn down work. The fact is, we will be crippled if we don't get people."
She warned the general public that her analysis of the industry was in line with government projections - that there will be a shortfall of about 350,000 job vacancies in the next five years or so. She applauded the efforts of Initiatives Prince George, the Chamber of Commerce and the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society (the joint hosts of the meeting) to bring newcomers to Prince George for these positions.
The wake-up slap came when B.C. forest companies had to recently fly in forestry workers from New Brunswick in order to complete contracts. But even those workers are feeling the positive effects of a revitalized lumber market, said Arcand, and they don't want to come back to B.C. when work is now available in their own province.
"We are not looking for overseas temporary foreign workers," Arcand insisted. "We are looking for people who want to move here and stay here - people looking to move up from $10-$12 an hour jobs to $30-$35 jobs. We need people to come here, stay here, and be in our tax base."
She said the initial concern she and other forestry insiders had was that logging companies would be prejudiced against Asian, African, Hispanic or other ethnic backgrounds coming to work for them in the bush.
"It was not the case. The message we've gotten is loud and clear: we don't care where they come from, we just want 'em," she said. "We expected to fight a culture shift, because the only faces you ever saw out in the local bush was aboriginal and white people. But they are telling us not to worry about that, just bring 'em on."
Rather, the challenge is convincing a newcomer from a warm climate or an urban setting to find the courage to embrace the Canadian winter working often alone in the wilderness for 14 hours a day on equipment they have never experienced before (the training is available, Arcand stressed).
"It is one thing to get them here, but if we don't also convince them to go out into the bush, we are in trouble. Our industry is in trouble," she said.
The three agencies are working together to fill the gaps. IPG is holding its second online job fair aimed at the Lower Mainland. On Nov. 19, potential candidates and potential employers can meet each other via cyberspace. The first time this was done, 13 local companies interacted with about 1,100 job seekers and this time more are expected because the other agencies are involved with advertising and recruitment campaigns of their own, in advance of the online job fair.
The most widespread part of the joint campaign is the Consider Prince George ad initiative by the Chamber of Commerce. They are placing pro-P.G. television and newspaper spots into the foreign language media of the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island to convince newcomers there to leave the urban crunch behind and come live where homes are more affordable, family and lifestyle time is greater, and jobs are easier to come by.