Wood Supply Chain Workforce Series Iss.1

Workforce: A Challenge for Everyone


Workforce shortages are a challenge for everyone, especially in the timber industry, and the past few years have been challenging to say the least. The COVID pandemic, coupled with the continued aging of the baby boomer generation, has made succession planning, workforce recruitment, and talent development complicated and, at times, overwhelming.

In today’s changing work environment, people continually look for perks such as working from home and a flexible schedule. Fortunately, there are many different opportunities in the industry that provide a multitude of various benefits. The question is how we talk about the timber industry in a way that highlights the benefits and competes (effectively) in the job markets for high-quality candidates.

In Northeast Oregon, some companies have tried a new approach to various industry opportunities and showcase career paths that may be outside the regular college path. “After the retirements of several loggers in our area, a collaboration of individuals from Boise Cascade, Manulife, ODF, OWIT, and Woodgrain met and deemed it was time to speak to the kids and not just tell, but also show them the opportunities to work in the woods and be a part of the climate change solution,” shared Melissa Fullerton, President of Oregon Women in Timber and Comptroller, Woodgrain Lumber and Composites. In a partnership between Hagedorn Logging, Oregon Department of Forestry, Woodgrain, and Boise Cascade, they invited a local forestry class from La Grande High School to come on a field tour and discuss “jobs in the woods.” There were approximately 20 students who attended this one-day field tour to experience an active logging job where students could see the operation up close and hear about a day in the life of the operators.

The students spent the morning at a working logging site where they could get up close, observe some of the equipment in action, and learn about the technology that enables these loggers to merchandise these trees for their highest and best value. Many students took advantage of the opportunity to get warm by jumping up on the cab to see the engine and bask in the heat. 

They were also able to see all the technological advancements in the machinery and better understand how these machines have advanced to increase workers’ safety, comfort, and efficiency. Students were amazed to learn about the cost of machinery and the career opportunities that provided an alternative educational path to college while providing a family-wage job with benefits and overtime. 

Some things that I learned:

  1. Building a relationship with your local high school teachers and school boards is essential to encourage them to showcase the industry as a viable career opportunity.
  2. It is vital  to have multiple people tell their stories about how they got to the job they are in. Each person has a different story and pathway.  
  3. Engaging kids and asking them questions to get them thinking about the industry is critical .

Overall, this was a great effort to showcase the jobs in the woods, and the team is organizing a second field tour to showcase opportunities in the mill. Initiatives such as these grow the community and highlight our industry’s positives, helping build a pipeline of recruits.