A dynamic industry: Q&A with Lori Schmitz, controller and co-owner of Cross Creek Logging
By Ellen Cools
Lori Schmitz’s path to forestry wasn’t a typical one. She started out in finance, spending 17 years in banking. But her spouse, Andy, was born and raised in the industry, and when he parted ways with his business partner in 2013, Lori decided to take on the financial duties of the company. On top of managing the company’s finances, she also looks after all of the health and safety aspects of the company.
CFI: How did you get your start in forestry?
My background is in finance. I spent 17 years in both retail and commercial banking. When my spouse was in the process of parting ways with his business partner and co-owner of Cross Creek Logging, back in 2013, I got more engaged directly in the forest sector and eventually transitioned completely away from banking and took on the financial duties of the company.
CFI: What do you enjoy most about the logging industry?
I guess the biggest part that I like about it is that it’s very dynamic. There’s always so much to learn. We’re always looking for better ways of doing things, new processes, that kind of thing.
CFI: What is your role now and what do you like best about it?
I’m the controller for the company. So, my role is quite diverse. Not only do I manage all of the finances of the company and assist with the day-to-day operations of both the trucking and the bush side of the company, I also look after all of the health and safety aspects of the company, completing monthly safety meetings and going out to the bush doing new worker assessments. I really like that part of it because being in an office is great, but sometimes it’s nice to get out in the field and have a good look at what everybody’s doing because then I get a different perspective of how things could be more efficient. I also enjoy being able to connect with the rest of the staff, because a lot of the time when you’re sitting in an office you don’t get that connection with employees on a day-to-day basis. It is a huge job managing a lot of that, but I really enjoy it.
CFI: Were there any particular mentors who helped you along the way?
I think my spouse, Andy, would probably be my biggest mentor as far as understanding the industry. He was pretty much born and raised in the industry. He was born and raised in Burns Lake, B.C., and has been in logging his whole life, so he was a real driving factor in getting me up to speed in a very short period of time.
As far as the office end of things, that’s what I’ve always done. This is my 30th year in finance and administration, so it’s basically second nature to me. When I get the opportunity to go out in the bush for the day, it’s really exciting for me, just to see how operations work, because that’s what my spouse is out doing each and every day. So, any chance to spend time with him and learn more about the equipment side of things and how the day-to-day operations run out in the bush is great, and I think we make a great partnership.
CFI: As a woman in the logging industry, do you find there are particular challenges?
From the office side of things, not necessarily. The main issue that we have in our area, which is a very small, rural area, is being able to draw talent and finding the right people. As far as recruiting women in the industry, we welcome it. We’ve had several over the years that have worked with us, and it’s been a great relationship. But, there’s always the challenge of having a small pool of talent to pick from. In forestry in particular, we do have an aging demographic, and a lot of our employees have a lot of tenure with us and over time they’re going to be looking at retirement. So, doing succession planning is one of the biggest challenges we face.
We need to do a better job in the industry as a whole in getting more people interested and passionate about getting into logging and forestry. It does take time to train people and there’s a significant investment for us to do that.
CFI: So, what do you think the industry should be doing to attract not just women, but also younger people?
The younger generation are very in tune with social media. So, we need to get some advertising out there about what’s available in this industry to generate some excitement around it and show what a typical day looks like for someone in the logging industry, including bunching, skidding, decking, processing and loading. When we interview workers, we need to show what kind of training is involved, the wages and the longevity that you have in the industry.
We need to find creative ways to be able to get that information out there and get people excited, saying, “Hey this could be a great opportunity for me! What kind of training do I need, how long would it take me to get up to speed where I’m a productive person and part of a team, being able to be a contributor every day?”
CFI: Do you think there are stereotypes in the industry that need to be addressed to get more women into the industry?
Yeah, and that’s always a tough one. I think there are some stereotyping still that exists, and as a woman and a direct owner of the company, I am a huge advocate for recruiting women in forestry, trying to do what we can to see what talent pool is there to hire. The pool, unfortunately, is very small. There are some great women in the logging industry in our area that are phenomenal operators and truck drivers, but there just aren’t enough of them.
CFI: What advice do you have for young women looking at a career in logging?
I would say, do your research. Go to companies, reach out to them and say, “I’m really interested in this, can you give me some time to explain what’s involved, what kind of training there is, and where would someone start in this industry?” Have the strength to say I want to do this, I’m interested in this, and take that next leap of faith, that next step forward and look for an opportunity. Get in front of the right people that could guide you along and take a chance on you. Or maybe find a mentor to see if this is something you’re really interested in doing. There are all sorts of things that could be accomplished by just getting out there and saying you’re interested.
I’m always willing to have conversations with women who potentially want to get into the industry and just give some advice. There’s definitely a few of us in our specific area that have done a great job in being able to recruit women in forestry. But, I would like to see more, for sure.
So, I think the stigma needs to go away where women are the ones at home raising young children, and the husbands are out in the bush working. There is nothing saying that roles can’t be reversed, or that they can’t find a common ground where they have their own opportunity to work one week on, one week off. There are instances where this could work well – for example, running the same machine for one company. There are different things that can be done. The world is changing and there’s no reason the woman has to stay home and take care of the household.
This post is part of CFI, Pulp & Paper Canada and Canadian Biomass’ Women in Forestry series celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Find more content here and follow us on social media with the hashtags: #WomeninForestry, #IWD2021 and #ChooseToChallenge.