Observations on and implications of the decline in Forestry undergraduate enrolment in Canada Kan, Jonathan
The decline in the number of enrolment of forestry undergraduate students has caused a concern in the forestry sector in Canada. Some people speculate that the low enrolments trend is attributed to the trend in the larger economy. However, university enrolment and economic statistics data shows that this is not the case. This trend is not a typical cycle; therefore, a different response is needed in dealing with this issue. The possible factors that contributed to this trend are: • the negative perception of the forestry industry as being anti-environmental; • the weak and uncertain job market in the forestry industry; • the mischaracterization of forestry as utilizing low technology and being academically undemanding; and • the lack of diversity in its current workforce. As a result, these factors have made forestry programs unattractive. This has, in turn, affected institutions that teach undergraduate courses as a reduction in funding leads to the decline in the capacity for developing new initiatives. Low enrolment has led to a negative feedback cycle for post-secondary forestry programs. The end result of the cycle is program closure. Only those programs that were able to adapt and evolve with the changing expectations of society were able to break free. This trend causes implications for industry and government as they will face the challenges of filling these professional positions if they want to continue on with their core business. This will be more significant to government than industry due to the predicted sharp increase in retirees. In order to address the issue, recruitment strategies target three main sources: high school students, transfer students and current students. Exposing high school students to forestry at an early age was the main goal for the high school strategy. Science fairs, field trips, and tours should be utilized as effective strategies in sparking youth interest. Transfer and current students who have yet to declare a major were targeted with current forestry courses that can be taken as electives. This strategy could utilize introductory courses to instill an interest in students and to provide a message that forests in Canada are important. Before those strategies can be implemented, several key challenges need to be addressed. One of them is diversifying the workforce. Through diversification, labour supply will be more stable as labour will come from multiple sources. The male dominated industry today needs to include more labour from non-traditional sources such as: aboriginals, females, and immigrants. All three groups are observed to have a potential impact in filling the needs of professionals in forestry. Another key challenge is to counter the stereotypical image of forestry. As such, greater collaboration within the forest sector is needed to send a consistent message about the exciting and fulfilling careers in forestry, and also the message that forestry is concerned with sustainability and stewardship of the forest. Furthermore, modern web-based technology should be used to recruit and connect with today’s youth. Further evidence in showing forestry is vibrant and leading edge is needed in order to overcome the mischaracterization of forestry as being low in technology. Many other considerations should be taken into account as post-secondary institutions recruit and educate for the forest industry: • Accreditation to provide ongoing accountability and a consistent high level of education • The use of non-professionals in a professional role • Government, industries, small businesses, employers of post-secondary graduate should take part in the advertising and promoting the profession of forestry. By and large, the forest sector including post-secondary institutions needs to evolve in order to meet with the changing views of society, as well as the demographics in Canada.
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