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Laid off after a 15-year stint in the oil industry, Jim Zenert realized he wanted a different kind of work. Tired of being on-call 24/7, he found forestry not only offered fresh opportunities but also better balance. Today, as an operator at a Millar Western sawmill, he enjoys being a team player, doing good work for a company that treats its employees like family. Jim is part of the GreenestWorkforce, and Canada’s forest products industry.
This is his story.
I was in my early fifties when the oil company I worked for laid- off 400 people. At the time, I was managing two plants and on- call ‘round the clock, working long days. It’s never a happy thing, being let go, but I had to admit to myself that the work wasn’t fun anymore.
So I decided to choose something different, without so much stress and responsibility. The forestry industry had exactly what I was looking for. Now, I’m an operator at Millar Western’s sawmill in Fox Creek, Alberta. I’d actually worked here backonce when I was 18, before going into the oil patch, though the mill’s been completely rebuilt since then and is new and modern. It’s good, clean work, where you’re part of a team. I actually feel younger now that I’m working here, since I’m out in the fresh air and going up and down stairs all the time. It’s a Monday to Thursday job, which means I always have long weekends and, in the summer, I have time to work on my car collection and get out on the road.
As an operator, I go where I’m needed to work on different equipment and, depending on the day, work on different equipment. About half a dozen of us get in early, to make sure the equipment’s running and to haveattend a safety meeting. T, then we get to work. This mill is supposed to manufacture a certain number of boards per day so we have production goals has daily production targets to meet, which is a real team effort. Every day, we try to do better than the last, and it’s satisfying work. What we do has a direct impact on the mill’s results.
This is a family-oriented company, the kind of place where the boss knows your name. Having grown up in a big family — my parents had 12 kids — I like that. Anniversaries and birthdays get remembered. The company is flexible and understanding:, and one guy with four kids had no problem getting leave when he needed it. When another guy’s house burned down, the mill gave him the time he needed to get back on his feet. At my last job, I was just a number.
This industry has a lot of opportunities, and I’d definitely recommend it. Young people can get in on the ground floor. My son was smart enough to get his mill rates ticket, which gives him the flexibility to do maintenance and repair work everywhere. One guy here got his ticket at 22 and a young woman got her electrician certification at only 21. Forestry can take you anywhere in the long run.
It’s a rewarding, lifetime career. Whatever your age, you get to contribute and be a part of something.