March and April 2007
Filling the Void
By Kurt Glaeseman
Where are the loggers of tomorrow? Owners of logging companies today are genuinely worried about finding the workforce of tomorrow. There is a definite shortage of young, competent recruits who see logging as a viable career. Many post-teenagers grew up in an era when logging was definitely on the skids. Federal lands were off limits to loggers. Production and jobs were down. Kids were barraged by the media and even at school with environmentalist propaganda.
Many thought the spotted owl was our national bird and the logger was the universal enemy. It’s no wonder that young adult workers look beyond logging and seek jobs as fork-lift operators or computer repair persons.
Is Logging a Dead End?
The logging and lumber industry in the Pacific Northwest is definitely on the upswing. Administrative changes have given reason for optimism. Privately managed forests are coming of age. Computerized programs and state-of-the-art machinery allow the recovery of smaller wood. And the demand for lumber increases with new construction and remodel jobs. Also, the loggers who survived the bad years are still out there. They are an older and wiser group, more savvy about lobbying in Washington, D.C., more interested in the new mechanics of logging, more in tune with their role in a litigious country, and more willing to compromise to stay in business. They’re still logging, and doing so at a profit.
Did the Forest Floor Slip Out From Under Us?
As the environment changed, the workforce aged. Now many of them are retiring. Not all loggers had sons and daughters waiting to take their place on the landing. Owners of logging companies today report a serious shortage of young recruits willing to fill entry-level jobs. Job descriptions can be daunting: physical stamina, good work ethic, mechanical aptitude, long hours, willingness to learn and follow orders, and a clean drug test report. And let’s face it — a good percentage of young workers, unacquainted with the traditions of logging, simply do not know the vocabulary, procedures, and expectations of the industry.
Can We Bring Back the Younger Worker?
Certain issues must be addressed if younger workers are to be lured back into logging. Daniel Dructer, Executive Director of the American Loggers’ Council, worries that higher wages in other venues will continue to divert potential logging employees.
One successful logging company, that maintains a stable workforce and is not dragged down by spotty labor, is Pickle Logging Company, which works out of Oregon and California. Owner Lance Pickle considers it his responsibility to pay a decent wage and to provide insurance for the workers’ families, but he won’t compromise on the drug testing: “I don’t want to work with druggies, and my employees don’t either.”
And Doug Schlatter, logger and tree planter out of Roseburg, Ore., recognizes that his Hispanic tree-planting crew has an admirable work ethic, but it is up to him to cover every detail of clerical documentation. He’s willing to do it to keep productive workers.
Are Remedies Currently in Place?
Education is a plausible remedy. Look at the number of participants at the Oregon Logging Conference who jump through the hoops to get professional growth credits. But that’s an unfair analogy — that audience is already committed to logging as a way of life and they already see the advantages of precise classes and seminars. Programs at the elementary and secondary schools are probably more effective in changing public opinion to understand that a logger is just as valuable as a grain farmer or a computer consultant or an X-ray technician. The logger provides both product and service, an enviable position in American society.
Community colleges are addressing the issue, but a first-round success is not always guaranteed. Shasta College in Redding, Calif., did a stellar job with a two-week Timbco course offered on a logging job site near Burney. Timbco reps and instructors Jeff Cummings and Ken Nolte met with 12 enrollees for two weeks in January of 2006. Topics included Safety Techniques, Machine Theory and Maintenance, Timbco Specifics, Simulator Training, Operating Techniques, and Machinery Operation. A separate curriculum dealing with Forestry, Tree Health, Forestry Practices, Timber Sales, Tree Identification, Logging Techniques, and Logging Practices filled out the other half of the course. A significant sum of money and substantial services were provided by Timbco, Sierra Machinery, President Diann Franklin and General Manager Tom Franklin of Franklin Logging, Shasta College, an Economic Workforce Resources Grant, and several other entities.
Of the original 12, only one is currently working in a logging position. That’s not as dire as it may seem. Eligibility for the course depended on each student having completed Shasta College’s Construction 46: Equipment Operations and Maintenance Class. So the prevailing mind-set was that better paying jobs might be available in the construction field, and that’s where most of the students went. The students had previously been preparing for a construction career, and a sudden immersion in tree identification was not immediately relevant.
Also, these students took an accelerated leap when they went from a construction background to simulated training on a Timbco 425 feller-buncher. A more normal or predictable path would be for an entry-level logger to work through basic entry jobs like choker setting or knot bumping, up through skidder operating and then, only after several seasons of learning the basics, perhaps moving to the controls of an expensive feller-buncher. The bottom line is that the course did indeed have great merit
Umpqua Community College in Roseburg is preparing a similar class under the direction of former OLC President Gordon Culbertson, Instructor Rod Greene, and an Advisory Board composed of experienced loggers. The summer 2006 class was postponed for several reasons. One was that the most apt audience was already out in the woods, working at entry-level positions and not available for summer class work. Each successive community college class can benefit by studying the strengths and weaknesses of preceding classes. Stay tuned to the upcoming Umpqua program. Culbertson and Greene won’t be satisfied with a mediocre offering.
How Can We More Efficiently Encourage or Find a Future Workforce?
Shasta College Instructor Jeff Cummings believes that more energy should be channeled to even younger students — those in high school, particularly those high schools in rural areas where students are predisposed to appreciate the quality of life that a logging environment might provide. The logging industry is hungry for decent employees, and often high school students who have a pride of craftsmanship and who enjoy and appreciate the woods can be identified by teachers and counselors and parents. This is another form of Renewable Resource 101.
Is It Too Early for a Bottom Line?
The shortage of qualified entry-level laborers still exists. Obviously some organizations are making valiant efforts to fill the gap. If you have suggestions or observations, speak out. Let your professional logger associations, your educational institutions, your community leaders, your elected officials, and your working peers know what you are thinking. It’s up to the industry to generate and recognize solutions. We have everything to gain by encouraging new workers who will in their turn support a profession that offers decent wages, satisfying work conditions, access to the natural world, and a degree of selfworth from participating in a useful, productive, and honorable occupation.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, April 25, 2007