Trey Lightening tries out an acetylene torch at the West Fraser sawmill. Ronan O’Doherty photo

Trades Day at West Fraser saw mill opens student eyes to career possibilities

COFI and West Fraser put on the one-day event for 15 Quesnel students

Fifteen students from Correlieu Secondary School (CSS) had an opportunity to gain hands-on experience at West Fraser’s Quesnel sawmill on Thursday (Feb. 21) thanks to a partnership between the school, West Fraser and the B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI).

The students spent the day rotating between one of five workstations, where they learned about welding, millwright work, electrical, quality control and saw filing.

The outing is beneficial for the students, as they get a taste for a variety of jobs, as well as an idea of what the environment is like at Quesnel’s largest employer.

“The level of engagement, enthusiasm, interest and passion is very high with these kids,” said Jim Costley, manager of forest education for COFI.

“They’re having a really good time learning about the opportunities that are in the forest industry.”

Costley is in charge of similar programs throughout the Interior, working with a variety of forestry firms and secondary schools in places like Houston, Smithers, Burns Lake, Fraser Lake, Vanderhoof and Prince George to keep the interest in the forestry industry high for the next generation of potential employees.

“Fifty per cent of our labour force is going to retire in the next 10 years,” said Costley. “So there are opportunities in a number of different fields.

“This program is giving them a snapshot of what it’s like to do these jobs.”

While the majority of work was done off of the main production floor, so the risks were minimal, for West Fraser maintenance superintendent Mike Lefebvre, safety was a top concern.

“We made sure to go over it all ahead of time,” he said. “We shared our safety standards with them in advance, and the first thing they did when they got on site was have a safety orientation where we went over a safety list. So far, they’ve been really good.”

Sheryl MacFarlane, a career prep teacher at CSS, said the hands-on aspect of the training was the best part for the students.

“It’s awesome as they actually get to do the activities, so they know right away if they find it interesting and can then pursue it as a possible career choice.”

She added the West Fraser employees were terrific hosts.

“They have been just incredible,” said MacFarlane. “They are answering questions, showing what they do and offering opportunities for the students to get right in there and be involved.”

For those who show a great degree of interest, COFI offers 10 $1,500 post-secondary scholarships in fields of study like forestry, science, trades, and business that lead to careers in the forest industry.

Costley said they will help students who attend the programs to apply for the scholarships.

For more information and to apply to the scholarships, go to http://bit.ly/cofischolarship.

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