Working in the forestry sector often requires people to live in rural areas, where natural resources are abundant. Rural life can be a hard sell for some people, but for others, forestry careers offer a great work-life balance and abundant career opportunities.
Bonny Skene knows how appealing life in rural Canada can be. As Domtar’s Regional Public Affairs Manager–Canada, Skene chose to return to her Ontario roots after working in corporate America.
“My then-fiancé and I were thinking about what we wanted our life to be like, so we had a huge list of pros and cons of the big city vs. a small town,” says Skene, who at the time was working as an IT consultant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “It was a really tough decision.”
But once she calculated how much time she spent commuting each day, she realized that she would spend 1.5 years of her life driving to and from work over the course of her career. “That was the clincher. We said, ‘wow, there’s a lot we can do in 1.5 years besides drive.’ So we decided to move back to Ontario.”
Forestry is a big industry in Ontario, which is Canada’s second-largest province. Skene and her now-husband settled in Dryden, where she found work at Weyerhaeuser and then Domtar. The rest, she says, is history.
At a recent Student-Employer Engagement Day (SEED), presented by Forests Ontario and sponsored in part by Domtar, organizations had a chance to meet with forestry students about Canadian forestry careers. Skene, who sits on the organization’s board of directors, spoke to students about the unique benefits of working and living in rural Canada.
Forestry careers have a lot to offer across a wide range of disciplines, but Skene thinks two of the most important benefits are work-life balance and diverse career opportunities.
The quest for a healthy work-life balance brought Skene back to Ontario, much to the dismay of her IT colleagues, who called it a career-ending move (it wasn’t). But times have changed. In fact, Forests Ontario conducted a survey of the 160-plus registrants at this year’s SEED event, most of whom were forestry students and faculty from universities in Canada, and they indicated that work-life balance was among the top factors when applying for work.
People who choose forestry careers are already drawn to the outdoors, which naturally makes living and working on rural forestlands appealing.
“They don’t want to sit behind a desk for the rest of their career. But also, younger graduates are thinking about how to balance their work life and their home life,” Skene says. “They’re highly committed to their studies, to their work and to their career, but they also want to have some fun and some time to have fun, so they’re coming into the workplace with that expectation.”
Living and working in rural areas can offer balance to people who are embarking on forestry careers. “That’s not to say there aren’t costs associated with living in a place like Dryden. We don’t have a lot of multicultural dining experiences, and the nearest Costco is four hours away,” Skene says. But for her, that cost is balanced by being able to enjoy what nature has to offer, from fishing, hiking and skiing to enjoying breathtaking views of the night sky.
Forests Ontario’s survey found that 82 percent of the respondents are willing to give up city life to relocate to a smaller community in rural/northern Ontario for a job in forestry. But that doesn’t mean they’ll have to sacrifice career growth.
“There’s a perception that there’s a lack of opportunities in rural locations,” she says, “but we are always looking for forestry technicians, registered professional foresters and everything in between. We also need HR expertise, finance expertise, public affairs expertise … When people think about forestry careers, they often think about the technical side of things, but there are lots of areas outside of those immediate forestry or manufacturing disciplines that we need as well.”
At Domtar, like at many forest products companies, there’s a lot of opportunity for career advancement, particularly as the older generation of workers nears retirement age and other workers decide rural life and/or forestry careers aren’t for them.
“Not everyone will want to stay, and a large percentage of those who have stayed are either retiring or approaching retirement,” she says. “That creates an opportunity for young people and fresh energy to join the workforce, and that’s really exciting. And within the company, if you’re willing to continue to learn and develop your leadership skills, you can find someone to help you be successful.”
Visit the Domtar Newsroom to read more about forestry careers and life at Domtar, or check out the Careers page to search for job openings by location and job type.