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New C-T-L Training Schools Meet

In an era when forestry jobs are declining, an operator training centre in the Maritimes reports that 90 per cent of its graduates find work in the

By Richard Turtle
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use.

As mechanized cut-to-length harvesting becomes more common in Canada, demand for well-trained machine operators is at an all-time high. That demand is being met with a significant growth in forestry schools specializing in training operators on some of the most advanced equipment in the world. In New Brunswick and Quebec, six facilities are offering both practical and classroom instruction to the next generation of high-tech operators. As well, the Forestry Training Center (FTC) in Forks, Washington has seen so much interest from Canadians that expansion into western Canada is a distinct possibility, says the school's director.

The schools all offer programs designed to prepare trainees for what has become a highly skilled and technical profession. Most courses run for approximately three months, providing classroom and field instruction on cut-to-length harvesting equipment. Tuition costs fall in the $15,000 to $20,000 (Cdn.) range. Class sizes are small, allowing all students a significant amount of "in the iron" time operating harvesters and forwarders. Those responsible for curriculum and instruction say training schedules are, by design, intense.

Yvon Beaulieu, a technical instructor with Equipement Federale QuÄbec LtÄe (EFQL), specializing in technical training on Timberjack forwarders and harvesters, says there has been rapid growth in mechanized cut-to-length harvesting in Quebec in recent years. That growth has led to the establishment of professional training centers in Mont-Laurier, Causapscal, Forestville, Dolbeau and Amos, which cater specifically to companies moving toward mechanized harvesting.

OSB "Some companies don't use this method yet, but there is a tendency toward this system because the environment and (forest) regeneration are more important than ever." He also says as commercial thinning becomes more common, companies will look to these kinds of machines as an economically feasible option.

Interest in training programs at schools across the continent suggest Beaulieu is right. For example, he notes that in Quebec there is an average one-year wait for students trying to get into cut-to-length harvesting programs. "Ontario has already asked us for assistance in creating a similar program and school, and we have had enquiries from Michigan, Oregon and western Canada."

When harvesting training was established in Quebec (under a commission set up by the Ministry of Education), EFQL was approached to provide instructors for both classroom and field training. With the program up and running, EFQL's role now is to train advanced program instructors.

The Quebec training centres currently provide instruction using a Timberjack 1270 harvester and 1210B, 1010 or 230A forwarders. Approximately 90 graduates per year complete their training at the schools. A basic program is offered which provides students with 360 hours of instruction; an in-depth 840-hour course is available. While the Quebec training centres offer instruction in French, neighbouring New Brunswick has been offering a similar program in English at New Brunswick Community College's Miramichi campus since November, 1995. The college's head of Natural Resources and Mechanical department Leandre Rousselle says the school offers a 12-week program teaching students to operate single-grip harvesters and forwarders as well as perform general maintenance and routine service on the machines. A great deal of the work is done in the field with students performing all the tasks which might be expected of an operator in the woods.

"They learn to both run and maintain the equipment," says Rousselle. When machine problems arise, as with a recent broken boom, students are involved in helping get the unit back in service and learning from the experience. "To be a good operator today, you need that kind of knowledge," he observes.

OSB Rouselle describes the program as a partnership between the federal government, the province of New Brunswick, the college, the forest industry and the students. Industry's part, in addition to recommending students, includes contributing funding for equipment. As well as teaching the technical, theoretical and practical aspects of the operators' jobs, the program tries to adhere as much as possible to the realities of real harvesting operations. That includes shift work; machines are operated 24 hours a day on a four-shift basis. That gives each of the 12 students in the program a significant amount of time in the driver's seat of the three machines utilized. The program has attracted students from throughout the Maritimes and so far 90 students have completed the course. Of those, "90 per cent or more" have found work as operators in the industry, says Rousselle.

The mechanized forest training course (FTC), which has been offered at the Forks, WA school since the spring of 1996, is similar to the one in New Brunswick, says the school's director Al Angrinon. A Maritime forester who helped set up the New Brunswick college program, Angrinon says there is a definite shortage of trained cut-to-length operators and he anticipates this won't change in the near future because of the continued growth in this type of harvesting. That is primarily in northern Quebec black spruce stands, for commercial thinnings in New Brunswick and Washington, and in Alberta lodgepole stands. "These systems are exceptionally flexible." In the FTC program, which concentrates on commercial thinning utilizing Scandanavian cut-to-length equipment, students learn safety, machine operation and troubleshooting, says Angrinon. The program takes 12 students at a time and runs Timberjack machines, including the 1270 and 1210B. As in New Brunswick, during the machine operation phase of the course the harvester and forwarder are run 24 hours per day.

The Washington centre is run as a private business. A total of 19 directors from all areas of the industry sit on the training centre's board. He says in the relatively short span of two years, the school went from being an idea to offering its first classes. "It's a partnership I've not seen in North America," he says. "Here it's the logging industry who made it happen." He agrees that offering training of this sort is not a cheap proposition. But he also notes that studies have projected that 1,000 skilled cut-to-length operators will be needed in the Pacific Northwest in the next 10 years.

Angrinon says the FTC curriculum is certified by the state and is getting a great deal of support. Companies hiring graduates benefit virtually from day one, he says, as students who complete the course are ready to go to work without further on-the-job training. That can save companies hiring graduates up to $2,500 in the first week alone, he adds, through added production but also by reducing mistakes and even accidents not uncommon with new operators. The most difficult phase of the learning experience is completed at the school, he observes, and not on the job. That can save employers a bundle.


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