The Future of Canada’s Forests Lies in Greater Diversity

Aug 2, 2023 | Canada’s Forest Trust

In 2007, the Canadian Forest Service division of Natural Resources Canada undertook a study examining the labour market profile and forecast for Canada’s Forest Industry. They found that enrollment in Forestry programs had dropped dramatically and that the Forestry sector itself was very “insular.” The work centred primarily around logging and timber, and was becoming less and less appealing to generations of workers growing up within the knowledge economy. In sum, the sector was aging, not replenishing itself and due to its narrow focus, subject to the varieties of market demand. Forestry’s relevance in Canada’s future was at a crossroads.


Slowly, things are changing. 


In the face of climate change and globalization, a more competitive, resilient, and environmentally sustainable forestry sector is emerging. With it, new faces, perspectives, and opportunities are coming into focus. Mark Kmill, National Manager with Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP), understands this well, and he sees his first job as bringing awareness to just how different the industry is becoming.


“The scale and scope of forest-related employment is growing,” says Kmill. 

“In addition to timber, the forest sector is exploring innovation in advanced bio-products derived from wood, next-generation building materials and from a sustainability perspective, there is huge interest in furthering advances in decarbonization and looking at new processes that generate more value from the same amount of wood.” All of this translates into a far more complex and interrelated workforce that encompasses learning and skill development in technology, biology, manufacturing, international relations, research, and silviculture, to name just a few. A whole host of adjacent sector jobs stimulate local economies. 


More significant equity and inclusion within Canada’s Forestry sector is required and desired.

In 2021, Canada’s forest sector employed 205,365 people, an increase of almost 10% from 2020. That said, males still account for 71.7% of Ontario’s forestry, logging, and support activities for the forestry workforce, compared to 52.7% for all industries, and the average age of workers remains substantially higher than in other sectors. But as the public’s focus on climate change and sustainability sharpens and the pandemic and geo-political events disturb supply chains, equity and inclusion efforts within Canada’s Forestry sector must be accelerated. Programs like OYEP and the Canadian Institute of Forestry’s Free To Grow initiative aim to achieve gender equality and meaningful inclusion “at all levels from technical to executive level positions in the forest sector.” The variety of rewarding green job opportunities is helping to attract new faces and perspectives.  


Fostering a workforce for the future also brings issues of justice and equity to the forefront. 

According to the 2021 report, Evidence on Diversity in Canada’s Forest Sector, “Indigenous people represented 7% of the forest sector labour force, or 14,230 persons in 2016.This is higher than their proportion in the total population (4.9%). The Indigenous populationhas grown by 42.5% since 2006 and is projected to exceed 2.5 million persons in the next two decades. Although the proportion of Indigenous people in rural areas is falling, the high growth rate suggests they will be increasingly important in the forest sector labour force.”


Participation is one thing. Ensuring Indigenous peoples receive an equitable share of the Forestry sector’s market share is a matter of economic reconciliation.  


More than 70% of Indigenous Peoples live in or near forested lands. Indigenous People have been managing this land for millennia, and the sustainable use of forests is critically essential to reconciliation. Indigenous involvement in the land is being increasingly and formally acknowledged through processes that include land tenure, land claims, treaty making and treaty land entitlement.


Ensuring those communities and their youth benefit fully in the future of these forests is where OYEP comes in. It is one of the reasons Canada’s Forest Trust Corporation is proud to partner with them. 


Since 2000, OYEP has supported land-based education, work experience and training opportunities for Indigenous youth, incorporating both Traditional Indigenous Knowledge and Contemporary Western Knowledge. It is now two generations strong and growing. For National Manager Mark Kmill, OYEP’s success is driven by delivering rewarding experiences that last a lifetime. “Nature serves as our classroom, and the land is our teacher. We are deeply committed to the wisdom and knowledge provided by the Earth. Through land-based training, we connect with the land, learn from its rhythms, and develop sustainable practices that are beneficial and preserve our environment for generations to come”.  


These young people are leaders in our emerging green economy, and we are excited to see where they take us.