March 13, 2012
Maine Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass met with the Maine Logger Education Alliance last week to discuss workforce challenges and training programs for workers seeking jobs and careers in Maine’s logging industry.
“Maine is suffering from a shortage of skilled logging workers for a variety of reasons,” said Winglass. “The goal of this effort is to connect more Maine workers with opportunities for good paying careers in the industry and ensure an adequate supply of wood to mills and consumers in the state.”
Over the last 20 years, the nature of wood harvesting work has changed significantly due to advances in technology. Most professional logging operations have abandoned chainsaws in favor of highly technical mechanical harvesting equipment that automates the process of cutting and delimbing trees. But to operate and maintain this equipment, workers need technical skills training before they are job ready.”
“It’s a real challenge for contractors to find the right people to operate their equipment,” said Charlie Hall, manager of the Sustainable Forestry Program at Sappi Fine Paper North America. “These are $500,000 pieces of machinery and safety and repair costs are of utmost importance.”
Logging equipment operators receive an average wage of $14.63 per hour according to Occupational Employment Statistics from the Maine Department of Labor. Over 2,000 Maine workers are employed as loggers and thousands more are directly tied to the forest products industry.
“Maine is one of the most heavily wooded state in the nation and thousands of jobs here are tied directly to logging and the forest products industry,” said Winglass. “If we don’t have enough workers to harvest the wood, Maine mills that produce paper, building materials and other wood products will be less competitive in the global market. We cannot allow that to happen.”
Aging demographics have only made the workforce challenge more acute.
“The logging industry is getting older and many of the most experienced professionals are reaching retirement age,” said Sherry Huber of the TREE Foundation. “We need to work now to ensure a steady flow of workers in the years ahead.”
Commissioner Winglass committed to collaborating with the industry to improve recruitment of workers to the sector and identify training partnerships and other opportunities within the University and Community College systems and the High School Vocational Programs to expand access to logger education. He will join industry representatives and officials from the Northern Maine Community College next week for a discussion of the training efforts currently underway in Northern Maine.
“Logging has provided jobs and prosperity in Maine as far back as the earliest colonial settlements,” said Winglass. “The industry remains essential to our economy today and we are committed to improving opportunities for the next generation of workers to enter the sector.”