Late last month the WSCA conducted an informal poll of silviculture contractors to find out if anecdotal reports of a shortage of treeplanters reflected a trend across the treeplanting sector.

We sent out a short questionnaire by email and received 24 replies by email or phone. By our estimates the companies that responded represented at least half of the trees planted in B.C. as well as a portion of the trees planted in Alberta. The respondents included small local operations with as few as 11 workers up to the largest operators in the province.

The poll was not rigorously methodical and the replies tended to range from precise to vague. But the following trends seem consistent across the board:

– with the exception of two firms all those polled reported symptoms of a treeplanting worker shortage this year. One of the firms that claimed to have no shortage did state that this year they had deliberately over-hired. This practice may account for why they didn’t experience a direct shortage. However, they did observe a much higher degree of worker turnover this year within their operation;

– there were no marked indications of a pending worker shortage last year. The trend seems to have popped up suddenly;

– applications from both inexperienced and experienced workers were down this year compared to 2004. Some reported just slight drops while others saw startling declines, the worst drop measuring as low as one tenth the number of applicants compared to the previous year for one large company;

– the decline in worker availability appeared not only steep but deep as it reflected a significant drop in experienced workers returning as well as a declining interest from green planters;

– most companies noted a significant increase in no-shows this year;

– some companies reported that the loss was affecting their ability to meet production on time this year;

– a few companies stated the calibre of the green workers this year was poorer than previous years;

– almost everyone reported the phones were unusually silent this spring with hardly any applicants checking in during the season, unlike previous years;

– some companies added extra comments, the most common being that they felt that treeplanting bid prices were now so low that it was proving difficult to recruit and retain reliable workers for the kinds of working conditions and wages being offered. A few contractors commented they had lost key people to more attractive work in the construction and oil and gas sectors.