Forest industry steps up to support TRU saw filer program

Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus staff, forest industry representatives and students gather Monday to acknowledge the donation of a new piece of equipment for the Saw Filing Apprenticeship Program, thanks to Canfor and HMT Machine Tools Canada. (Angie Mindus photo)
Taylor Hoffman and Keith Foulkes work with instructor Greg Daykin at the TRU Williams Lake Campus Monday. Angie Mindus photo
Carolyn Higginson said she is enjoying her saw filing apprenticeship.
Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus staff, forest industry representatives and students gather Monday to acknowledge the donation of a new piece of equipment for the Saw Filing Apprenticeship Program, thanks to Canfor and HMT Machine Tools Canada. (Angie Mindus photo)
Apprentices Wayne Gerlitz (left) and Amos Deyo check out the new equipment.
Canfor’s operation training lead, Travis Emel, and HMT Machine Tools Canada founder Greg Gabara teamed up to provide equipment for the Saw Filer Apprenticeship Program at TRU Williams Lake Campus.

The Saw Filer Apprenticeship Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus got some much appreciated support from industry this week.

Canfor and HMT Machine Tools Canada teamed up to donate a Vollmer CHC20 top and face grinder to TRU’s saw filer program.

The saw filer program, the only one of its kind in Canada and the Western United States, has seen 219 graduates since it started in 2013 and shows no signs of slowing down.

“There is a lot of excitement among industry to see that program brought back,” said Travis Emel, operations training lead for Canfor, of the TRU saw filing program.

Emel and many others were on hand for the unveiling of the equipment in the trades department at TRU Monday.

“We are happy to support it.”

Emel said Canfor donated the equipment and asked HMT Machine Tools Canada to assist by giving it the retrofit and rebuilt necessary to be useful for students.

“It needed a lot of work.”

Eric Gabara, owner of HMT who started as a saw filer himself 35 years ago, said yes to the donation of time and resources after recalling that his own apprenticeship could have been better.

“It was really a dysfunctional trade [back then],” Gabara said. “Instead of complaining about it I thought, ‘Why not do something positive and let these guys work with some good equipment.’”

The rebuild retrofit took Gabara’s team about six weeks to compete, at a cost of roughly $30,000.

There are currently 16 apprentice saw filers in the program at TRU, which started Sept. 11, and Gabara believes they all have a bright future in saw filing.

“It’s a good opportunity to make a great living for a lifetime.”

The students, who were on hand for the donation, all agreed great wages, a new challenge and a high demand for the trade are all good reasons to become a saw filer.

Student Taylor Hoffman of Quesnel said he gave up working as a welder in Alberta when he was accepted as a saw filer apprentice with Dunkley Lumber.

He said the opportunity has allowed him to move back home to Quesnel with his young family after years of living away for work, and have a good-paying, steady job.

Student Matthew Stark works for Western Forest Products on Vancouver Island.

At 32 years old, he said he is confident he will always have a job in saw filing with his company and was attracted to the job to learn something new and enjoy a good wage.

Carolyn Higginson, the only woman in the class, said she has worked at Babine Forest Products for the last 12 years and has been apprenticing as saw filer for the past year and three months.

Prior to her apprenticeship, Higginson experienced a one-year lay off following the explosion of the Babine mill and couldn’t find other work with a comparable wage.

“If anything happens again I’ll be able to go anywhere with a trade.”

Higginson said working in a male-dominated field can have its challenges – “certain people make it harder” – but she likes where she lives and works, and the pay is good.

“One (co-worker) doesn’t think I can do it, but I have been doing it. I prove him wrong all the time,” she said with a smile.

TRU saw filer instructor Greg Daykin said saw filing is a great trade with a competitive wage, something he should know considering he has been at it for 50 years.

Baldev Pooni, TRU’s dean of School of Trades and Technology, said the saw filer apprenticeship program is a small but important one for the industry, and he is thankful for industry support.

“Industry support is critical to delivering a quality program,” he said. “Apprentices will always benefit from relevant training on current industry tools, equipment and machinery.”

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