Forestry students at North Island College are learning the ropes in the classroom and out in the field.
Two new Coastal Forestry programs at NIC have been teaching students how to put down roots in the forest industry, giving them entry-level skills for a wide range of positions within the forestry sector.
The forest industry has changed over the past few years, with innovation and advances in technology changing the way forest ecosystems are managed. Students hoping to enter the industry are taught to use iPads out in the field and learn how to use remote sensing and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) for forest mapping.
“Where they would have spent five to six days in the field, now that work is done in the office,” said Coleen MacLean-Marlow, the program coordinator for NIC’s Coastal Forest programs and a registered professional forester. “They’re getting a lot of software training on top of the field work.”
The college offers both a one-year certificate program and a two-year diploma program, which were developed in collaboration with the BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC). Teachers in the program are professional foresters themselves.
The curriculum was built based on insight directly from industry professionals and Vancouver Island employers, explained MacLean-Marlow.
“Employers are looking for job entry skills in the market,” she said.
Although the certificate program officially launched in 2020, it was piloted in 2019 out of Port Alberni with Huu-ay-aht First Nations. MacLean-Marlow explained that Western Forest Products had been a part of the program advisory team, and Huu-ay-aht learned about the opportunity through their Tsawak-qin Forestry Limited Partnership.
“We graduated eight students [from the pilot program] and five of them are still working in forestry,” said MacLean-Marlow.
The certificate introduces students to core skills and knowledge in silviculture, harvesting, occupational safety, surveying, timber cruising and grading and prepares students for entry-level positions within the forestry sector. Diploma students receive the same education, but the second term is “a lot more academic,” said MacLean-Marlow. It prepares students for professional accreditation as a Registered Forest Technician.
The college just graduated its first cohort from the diploma program this past spring.
Although both programs are taught out of Campbell River, MacLean-Marlow says she hopes to see the certificate program expanded to other campuses.
“We’ve had conversations about holding the certificate program in Port Alberni,” she said. “We’re looking at marketing it for next year and seeing what kind of interest there is.”