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We know—it's February and practically the dead of winter. While the negative temperatures can be a let down, don't let that keep you from planning ahead and bulking up your resumé with a summer job. This year, your plan is to step away from the popular retail gig or summer office job to try something different. What about a job in the wild? Perhaps the thrilling opportunity to fight wildfires in the west or work outdoors as an environmental engineer would be a good fit for you. Whatever it may be, now is a great time to start looking for the opportunity that best suits you.

Many summer students use seasonal jobs as a starting point in their career and continue working with the same employer after graduation, says Ann Normand, communications specialist with Work Wild, Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA). Forest companies provide a multitude of opportunities for summer jobs working with technology in mills or working outdoors in the forest.

The AFPA is a non-profit industry association representing companies that manufacture forest products from lumber to pulp. Work Wild is a campaign from the AFPA that strives to help people find the career they're most passionate about in the industry.

Normand says that the jobs currently in high demand are those in skilled trades as millwrights, electricians, and heavy-equipment mechanics, as well as forest technologists and general labourers. There are forest communities located all over Alberta—some near mountains, lakes, and other natural recreational areas—providing a great lifestyle to those living and working in these communities.

Along with the abundance of forestry in Western Canada comes the constant threat of wildfires in the area. Whitney Exton, wildfire information officer with the Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) ministry, says there are summer job opportunities for young people interested in anything from lookout observers to camp bosses to firefighters.

We always get a lot of questions and requests for the wildland firefighters, says Exton, mentioning that there are different positions available for those looking for within the ESRD. People love to fight fire and it's sexy; it's something that looks like fun and there are lots of opportunity and lots of competition for that.

Spending your summer break fighting fires isn't only a good look for your resumé, but it also offers valuable work experience and good income. If there's a lot going on, you might be on your shift for seven days or 12–15 days, says Exton, and maybe you're working 12 hours a day so you get lots of money out of it. According to Exton, those working in wildfire can make anywhere between $20–$26 per hour, with the opportunity to make more with overtime or depending on the fire season.

One of the best ways to ensure graduates will be competitive when seeking post-graduation work is for them to get practical work experience while studying, says Normand. Summer jobs and co-op programs contribute to competitive resumés for those starting their careers in the forest industry.

Photo: Cody Marsh/THINKSTOCK