Hundreds of British Columbians lost their jobs in recent sawmill closures: Now what?
Transition teams working to identify needs, skills
More than 400 mill workers in B.C. are trying to figure out what comes next.
Canfor announced earlier this week that its Vavenby sawmill would be closing in July, leaving over 170 mill workers without jobs.
In May, Tolko announced it would be closing its mill in Quesnel, where 150 people will become unemployed. And another 90 will be laid off at its Kelowna mill as it cuts down its workforce. That doesn't account for all the contractors and workers in related industries who are also impacted by these cuts.
Terry Tate has worked in the forestry industry for 48 years and now works for the United Steelworkers, helping employees make the transition after layoffs. His biggest piece of advice for those feeling uncertain? Don't panic.
"People panic and they jump at whatever people are throwing out there and they grab onto the program or their training but it really honestly doesn't help them," he said.
When a mill closure is announced, a transition team is formed, made up of representatives from the relevant government ministries, Service Canada, WorkBC and other key players. They work quickly to come up with an action plan to identify the needs of the people in the mill so they can move them as smoothly as possible into whatever might come next.
"The biggest concern is obviously, you know, 'What do I do next?'" Tate said. "For some people that have never been unemployed this is a very, very stressful time."
Identifying needs includes figuring out whether individuals are keen to relocate to another mill, ready to retire, and what kinds of transferable skills they might have.
"Lots of people are handy," Tate said. "They've got lots of different skill sets. So you actually work on those skill sets to enhance them, give them whatever tools they need."
Tate said he's encountered people who have experience building homes, so it was easy to set them up with contractors and find new jobs in construction.
He's also met people who were natural carpenters, but didn't have official certification. They were given assistance getting certified so they could move forward in a carpentry career, he said.
"Whatever program funding and resources are available, you want to make sure that it's tailored to actually help the people that are out there," he said.
The worker transition team can also help employees access employment insurance, deal with creditors, and make sure their families can survive until they've got a new job lined up.
"There is a significant amount of resources and funding and assistance for workers put into this predicament," Tate said.
Government funding, primarily through WorkBC, is available to help retrain mill workers in new fields. Part of the transition team's job is to help people access that funding.
Tate believes people who have lost their jobs due to these recent closures should remain hopeful and be open to assistance.
"You've really got to slow people down," he said. "It's just taking the time to sit with them, to go through the options that are there."