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After some of the toughest years in the long history of Maine’s forest products industry, a new, stronger forest economy is emerging thanks to investments of about $1 billion.

Survey shows Maine’s loggers worried about ‘skills gap’

A logging crews from Comstock Woodlands, which is based in Comstock Township, only 30 miles from Maine’s northwest border with Quebec Province.

A logging crews from Comstock Woodlands, which is based in Comstock Township, only 30 miles from Maine’s northwest border with Quebec Province.

Lack of training options for entry-level loggers is one of the issues that is bringing  “the forest industry in Maine is at a critical crossroads,” a new survey concludes.

The study, Logger Training Survey 2012: Final Report, was conducting by researchers at the University of Maine University of Maine School of Forest Resources, Britt Townsend and Dr. Jeffrey G. Benjamin, working with the Maine Logger Education Alliance (MLEA), including the Maine Tree Foundation, the Forest Resources Association, Maine SFI, Maine Forest Service, Certified Logging Professional Program, Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, high school forestry instructors and others.

“There is a need for entry-level training for logging equipment operators,” the report says. “Additionally, many respondents expressed a great deal of concern over other issues such as retirement, rising costs, inflation, employee retention and the future of their businesses.”

Overall, respondents agreed that something must be done to aid the struggling industry. As one industry worker put it, “Something needs to be done for employees in this industry, the logging side that is, to put money back into our pockets. Profit is not a dirty word in most other industries. The time is right now, while we still have some capacity.”

Joel Swanton, FRA’s Northeast Region manager, said the “concern over availability of qualified workers to assure adequate future logging capacity is present in all regions of the US.  We needed to better understand the needs of the logging community in order to meet those needs.  The survey results confirm that the logging community does see value in providing training opportunities for new workers. 73 percent of contractors surveyed stated that there is a need for an equipment operator-training program in Maine and a strong majority indicated that they would potentially hire graduates from the program.  The challenge will be to match training with demand in a cost effective way.”

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