It’s not finding a market for raw logs that’s occupying the president of Timber Baron nowadays, but finding the qualified people needed for the work at hand.
In fact, says Lee Thomson, a shortage of training people is keeping his sales at the level of last year .
“We really can’t go any faster than what we are, because of labour problems” he says. “It’s really hard to get good people.
Thomson accredits this to 14 years of turmoil for the forest industry in the area.
That’s resulted in a loss of skilled workers who went to other industries and other areas where there were more jobs and higher wages.
Thomson explains this has led to an additional concern about retirement as most his employees are in their 50s, something he said is the norm for this area.
“Nobody could actually afford to break anybody in,” he said. “It costs so much to train a new guy, so now its been 10 years, 15 years, since anybody broke anyone in.”
Thomson explains there’s risk associated with training a new person.
A person can take years to develop a reliable feel for reading the quality of a log and understanding where to make a proper cut.
All training comes on site. Thomson says there are government courses but they just cover the basics.
Even a heavy equipment operators’ training can fall short given the remote and tricky locations in which the company operates.
“We do some extreme logging,” said Thomson.
Most of Timber Baron’s exported raw logs are being sent to Asia, with 80 to 90 per cent going to China and the remainder divided up between Korea and Japan.
However these exports only represent about 25 per cent of the wood collected by the company.
Thomson explains because of the age of northwest forests, a lot of wood is over-mature, leaving about half unusable and a further quarter only fit for pulp, which stays in B.C. to be turned into cardboard and other brown paper products.
Thomson said he would love to keep all of the wood here in the northwest and in the past has supported local mills by selling logs at a cheaper rate to help out.
Because there are no active mills in the area to sell to contractors bid on blocks of wood from the government.
Once secured it is up to each company to find a market for its logs.
However after 25 years in the businesses he says that Timber Baron is secure in the business, and because a lot of its equipment is paid for are able to put in lower on bids on wood.
“Were confident that we are going to stay in the business,” Thomson said.
The company moved its log sort yard and container stuffing facility to Terrace from Prince Rupert, setting up shop on property which was once part of the Skeena Cellulose site here.