February 29, 2024

By Hem Dholakia


Mass timber (an engineered wood product used as a building material) presents an opportunity to help with Canada’s housing crisis as well as reduce the environmental impacts of the construction sector. It has the potential to bring economic prosperity to communities across Canada, including in British Columbia (BC), offering benefits for many industries in the province from forestry to manufacturing to design to construction. The Government of BC projects that by 2035 mass timber could create more than 4,000 direct and indirect jobs in the province, and has already implemented a Mass Timber Action Plan to advance the opportunity. Meanwhile, new municipal incentives are also set to spur mass timber’s rise. Furthermore, stakeholders expect a slow and steady growth of the mass timber industry in BC, despite some existing uncertainties, such as fibre supply, building codes, or support from financiers.

But if Canada wants to leverage these opportunities, all levels of government, industry, and educational institutions need to address one key component that will determine the growth trajectory of mass timber: making sure workers and resource-dependent communities where the mass timber industry can thrive are ready. Specifically, there needs to be enough workers with the skills to fill the jobs and complete the tasks to manufacture and adopt mass timber at scale.

Over the last year, the skills team at Smart Prosperity Institute, in partnership with the Future Skills Centre, has closely examined this key factor, specifically the skills needs of workers throughout the mass timber supply chain in BC. Through a survey, a series of stakeholder conversations, and workshops, we identified the core challenges that need to be overcome for the province to develop a vibrant mass timber sector. We also put forth priority recommendations and highlight solutions for government, industry, and educational institutions to adopt in order to make this opportunity a reality. The complete findings of this research will be released in three reports – Framing British Columbia’s low-carbon future; Making mass timber in Northern BC, and the associated Summary for Policymakers – which launch next week on Wednesday, March 6th.

In today’s blog post, we will look at the three main challenges facing the growth of the mass timber industry in BC. If these challenges are addressed, then our research shows that the current skills ecosystem will largely be able to support the growth of mass timber in the region, particularly North-Eastern BC. This will ensure continued prosperity for resource-dependent communities, such as Mackenzie, Quesnel, Fort St. John, and more.


Challenge 1: Workers need support to transition into mass timber

Mass timber will change the skills required across the supply chain. Our detailed supply chain analysis – from production to adoption of mass timber – finds that workers will need to upskill (i.e. acquire additional skills to do the same job) versus reskill (i.e. learn new skills to do a different job). For instance, on the production side, lumber graders and other wood processing inspectors and graders may need to learn about new industry classifications for mass timber products. Meanwhile, on the adoption side, construction managers may need to be more involved in the design stages, meaning they would require greater knowledge of skills around modular construction techniques and mass timber manufacturing. Therefore, we need to prepare the workforce through educational training so that they are ready for these jobs.


Challenge 2: Northern BC needs employers in mass timber

Northern BC has an abundant supply of raw materials to support a wood-manufacturing industry. Bringing mass timber to the region would empower communities (including Indigenous and First Nations communities), help create jobs, and improve economic prospects. For mass timber production to thrive within Northern BC, the first step is to attract mass timber production or manufacturing capacity to the region. An important step in this direction will require addressing structural challenges, including a lack of supporting infrastructure (such as a lack of railways and other transportation infrastructure to bring products to market), uncertain market demand tempering investment attractiveness for panel manufacturing, and the challenges small and medium-sized enterprises (which the majority of mass timber producers are) face in securing adequate timber supply.


Challenge 3: Focusing on mass timber alone is not enough

Success stories from Europe show that focusing on wood more broadly, regarding both training future workers and setting up businesses for success, was foundational for launching a mass timber ecosystem across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. For instance, a generalized wood-focused curriculum at post-secondary institutions could produce graduates who can occupy a variety of positions along the mass timber and other wood product supply chains. Skills such as 3D modelling, computer-assisted design, building information management, or the use of computer numerical controlled machines will prepare students for mass timber jobs as well as other occupations that use these technologies. This is beneficial for businesses as it implies steady access to a skilled workforce. However, it is also important for businesses to consider their operations regarding wood manufacturing more broadly as it would allow them to diversify their operations to produce various types of wood products, including mass timber.


Want to know more?

In our upcoming reports, Framing British Columbia’s low-carbon future; Making mass timber in Northern BC, and the associated Summary for Policymakers, we expand on the opportunities and challenges set out here while outlining the solutions to address these obstacles. We explore the supply chain for all steps of the production process for mass timber and highlight the skills and occupations that are needed now and in the future of the industry. We also offer recommendations to build a robust and equitable skills system in Northern BC to fully achieve the opportunities that mass timber presents. These reports launch next Wednesday, March 6th, in partnership with the Future Skills Centre, and we hope that you take the time to read and engage with our work!

Hem Dholakia

Senior Research Associate