Lots of people make the journey overland across Canada from Victoria to St. John’s, N.L. The difference is I’m doing it on a bicycle — and a wooden one, at that.
I’ve embarked on this unusual cross-country venture — which we’re calling the Project Learning Tree Canada Green Ride for Green Jobs tour — to help open the eyes of Canada’s youth to the array of challenging, rewarding and professional opportunities available working in this country’s great outdoors.
My long bike ride is part of my efforts as green jobs manager at Project Learning Tree Canada (PLT Canada). By offering thousands of green job opportunities and promoting unique career pathways, we are committed to using the outdoors to engage young people in learning about the world around them — in rural, Indigenous and urban communities.
We are able to achieve this thanks to the support of our great networks at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Canadian Parks Council, who have been valuable partners in helping connect us with hundreds of great organizations that are keen to hire youth.
On this Canada Day, I’m pausing here in Winnipeg — almost 3,000 kilometres into my trip — to celebrate our country’s natural and forest heritage. I am scheduled to be at the Assiniboine Park Zoo on Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
This 152nd anniversary of Confederation is an ideal moment to renew our appreciation for our country’s bountiful resources, its beauty and the many opportunities that Canada and the great outdoors have always provided — today more than ever.
Like me, many young people go through school with little appreciation of the wealth of jobs created by Canada’s abundant natural and forest resources.
When I was in high school in Ottawa, no one talked about green jobs or careers in the forest and conservation sectors. At the time, all the buzz was around digital disruption and high tech. I naturally thought my career path would be pursuing an office job.
But all that changed when I experienced the joy of outdoor employment. For two summers, I worked with Parks Canada at Thousand Islands National Park and then with Agriculture Canada in Grande Prairie, Alta., at a beekeeping company. Working outdoors, in the fresh air and in a natural setting provided some of the best job experiences I ever had, and I want others to experience that same kind of joy.
That’s why I’ve been working hard to connect other youth to these kinds of outdoor job opportunities.
And it’s why we at PLT Canada commend the federal government for modernizing and overhauling its much-needed youth employment and skills strategy. By broadening the pool of youth who are eligible for opportunities, and by identifying the barriers that young people face in gaining the skills and opportunities they need, the recently announced policy is a very good step in the right direction.
We know that youth sometimes face unique challenges in entering forest and conservation sector jobs. For example, in a traditionally male-dominated field, women can feel like there are limited opportunities for them; mentorship can be hard to come by; and as we are finding more and more, many young people don’t know the extent to which these types of jobs exist or how to best access them. At PLT Canada, we’re proud to have achieved gender balance in our more than 2,000 job placements and of our great success in matching Indigenous youth with employment opportunities.
Canada’s size and ecological diversity mean that green jobs can be the jobs of the future. And they will need to be if we hope to create a more sustainable tomorrow for today’s youth. It’s obvious to us that there is plenty of passion and interest for this kind of work, and that Canada’s youth just need more transparent and accessible pathways to make these careers possible. PLT Canada is looking forward to continued collaboration with the government in making this vision a reality.
And, of course, that’s why I’m doing the Green Ride. There’s no better time than Canada Day to recognize that, together, we can help grow the next generation of forest and conservation leaders.
Zac Wagman is the green jobs manager for Project Learning Tree Canada.