CAMPBELL RIVER, B.C. — If you were a young man growing up on Vancouver Island, chances are good you would eventually find yourself working in the forestry sector just like several of your family members had through the years.
If you’re a woman, however, you might need some persuasion to convince you that forestry is a viable career path.
Jeanna Glendinning grew up on the island where her grandfather, father, and uncle made their living in the woods. Despite her family connection to forestry, it wasn’t an obvious choice for Glendinning when it came to her career. On the contrary, it was downright difficult.
“I realized I was reaching my 30s and going back to school was just too expensive to do and I had this industry that no one had ever encouraged women to go into when I was in high school,” said Glendinning. “They didn’t encourage us to be welders or mechanics.”
But for an islander, man or woman, there is no denying what’s right on your doorstep.
“This industry has never gone away,” said Glendinning. “It was there when my grandfather was in it, it was there for my father and my uncle and I didn’t see why I couldn’t be part of it as well.”
Glendinning worked in sales and social work prior to becoming a logging truck driver. Now with three years of experience under her belt, Glendinning drives for Western Forest Products out of Nanaimo, B.C. and worked for a pair of smaller companies prior to gain the desired two years behind the wheel.
Being a woman, just getting her foot in the door was a challenge.
“No one took me seriously,” said Glendinning. “I had one company tell me, ‘Go get your air brakes, then we’ll talk to you.’ So I got my air brakes, and they said, ‘Well, go get your licence and we’ll talk to you,’ so I went and got my licence and they said, ‘Go get some driving experience and we’ll talk to you.’ I just said, ‘Look, I’m asking to sweep your shop floors to learn about trucks,’ and I couldn’t even get that.”
Not wanting to rely on her father or uncle to help her break into the industry, Glendinning aspired to earn her own stipes regardless of the challenges she faced.
As Glendinning pointed out, nearly every community on Vancouver Island was built on forestry or mining in some aspect. When she told her family she was considering becoming a logging truck driver, her father thought the idea was “interesting” and her uncle flat out disapproved, prompting her to go behind his back when applying for positions.
“I knew I wanted to be doing something with equipment,” she said, “and I knew I wanted it to be something where the jobs were attainable in the near future.”
With driver training from Oceanside Industrial out of Courtenay, B.C., the position she was looking for, however, was not always clear to potential employers.
“The first two places I took resumes to said they weren’t looking for a secretary, and I said, ‘That’s good, ’cause I’m not looking to be one,’” Glendinning said.
Eventually, a company did take her on. For the first three months, Glendinning rode with an experienced driver to learn the ropes and gain some real-world knowledge.
Though driver training schools are good at teaching students what needs to be done in theory, Glendinning said it can be a different story once you’re on the road on your own.
Over time, Glendinning’s confidence grew.
“Now that I have my job and I’m doing it and I can go out and put on my own chains, check my oil, and check my brakes, I’ve got the confidence and I realize that there’s no one who can’t do this job,” she said. “This job is for anyone who doesn’t have a fear of driving.”
And Glendinning is seeing more women show interest in becoming logging truck drivers. Even one of her high school friends recently contacted her wanting to know how she could do what Glendinning does.
David Elstone, executive director of the Truck Loggers’ Association, said he would like to see more women enter the industry.
“A severe shortage of skilled workers is not about to impact the forest industry, it is already here,” said Elstone. “With more and more technology being integrated into harvesting, the days of old logger stereotypes no longer apply. Diversity and inclusion is a strength to any sustainable industry, so I absolutely think women should consider the harvesting sector when they are looking for a career.”
Glendinning believes companies would see more women applying for positions if they felt more comfortable and supported in the traditional male jobs.
“I think that’s what everybody wants to know is that they are going to be supported in their job and trained to do it properly and set up for success,” she said. “The support that I got in the beginning, which would have been a 40/60 split between the crew, I now can’t imagine anyone I work with doing anything malicious…they’re just a really supportive bunch.”
Somewhere down the road, Glendinning sees herself possibly looking to diversify her driving experience to open a few more doors.
But for now, she’s happy behind the wheel.
“I didn’t know I’d like driving this much. I enjoy it a lot more than I thought I would,” Glendinning said. “I thought I’d like it but that I’d just want to get on a loader. I think I’ll do this for quite a bit longer.”