12 forestry students, as well as officials from across the North Island, celebrated the grand opening of the new Fundamentals of Forestry Centre in Woss.
The grand opening was hosted by David Mitchell, from the Vancouver Island North Training and Attraction Society (VINTAS), one of the organizations that worked towards creating the centre, which is currently holding its first 12-week Fundamentals of Forestry course.
“There’s been a whole lot of organizations and people that have worked hard to make this school and the forestry sector strategy happen,” said Mitchell.
A $500,000 grant from the B.C. Rural Dividend Program, financial support from Island Coastal Economic Trust, and partnerships with Western Forest Products (WFP), Regional District of Mount Waddington (RDMW), Vancouver Island University, BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) and local organizations made the Fundamentals of Forestry Centre possible.
“The program will also establish Woss as part of a North Island centre of excellence for the forest sector and will provide local logging companies with a pool of reliable and qualified employees to assume positions created by the retirement of older workers,” said RDMW Chair Andrew Hory, adding, “We expect that the course that is underway today will be the forerunner of additional programs that will help sustain our economy and contribute to viability of the region.”
RDMW Area Director for Woss and president of the Woss Residents Association, Dave Rushton, spoke about the significance of the new program.
“It’s great to see the young fellas with this training – the safety aspects of it all is key to learn,” said Rushton. “When I moved here 50 years ago it was the school of hard knocks and the learning curve was very steep.”
The new program’s content is based on competencies identified by BCFSC and developed with Vancouver Island University designed to teach employability skills and safe work practices.
“I’m thrilled that forestry, one of the truly renewable resources we have in BC, has found a home here in this Centre at Woss,” said Port McNeill Mayor Shirley Ackland, who was noted as one of the most enthusiastic proponents of the program.
Kindry Mercer, WFP’s Manager of Regional Initiatives, spoke about the future of the industry.
“Western is really excited to be apart of this opportunity to professionalize the industry and ensure workers have a well-rounded skillset and come to the job site able to operate safely,” said Mercer, adding, “I’m calling on the wider forestry industry to get involved learn about the program and support and help define a path forward.”
VIU’s Associate Dean of Trades and Technologies spoke about the program’s impact, noting small communities and industries province-wide are facing the same demographic challenges.
“Just recently VIU received funding from the provincial government from the ministry of advanced skills education and training to carry on this program into 2019,” said Mottshead.
He added that VIU has been asked to work with BCIT, the College of New Caledonia in Prince George, Selkirk College in the Kootneys, and possibly Okanagan College to develop the program for the rest of the province.
“Woss is now on the map, in the province,” said Mottshead.
The new Centre is located in the Woss Lake School Building and is being taught by Forester Dazy Weymar.
“I couldn’t have hoped for a better group than these students, they keep impressing me,” said Weymer, adding, “We are teaching them as much practical stuff as we can here – starting next week they are going to go out with Western crews in the various camps and work hands-on with the logging crews there.”
The first intake of forestry students are set to complete the Woss-based program in mid-July.