FRA Northeast Region Forest Forum – March 2023 Identifying, Recruiting and Retaining Talent:  Ideas for the Forest Industry Workforce


FRA’s Northeast Region Forest Forum in Brewer, Maine, held March 2, 2023, featured a group brainstorming session to elicit ideas, experiences, and questions about how the forest products industry can attract and retain a robust workforce. Participants were asked to share their thoughts, which were captured and shown live, allowing everyone to see, hear and react to what was said. The following points were shared by forum participants and are provided to spur further thoughts and discussion. FRA has not fact-checked any statements and does not necessarily support all ideas captured, but this is shared to further the dialogue about how the forest industry can attract and retain the workforce we need to grow and prosper.

This topic was inspired by a Northern Logger Podcast episode titled Industry Leaders Weigh in on How Businesses Can Attract and Retain Top Talent. That episode can be listened to here.

General Discussion

  • Financing is a big deal for loggers, compared to a new plumber just starting who would need tools and a van. The buy-in for logging is significantly higher.
  • Succession planning – what is the clear path to keep the business going?

> This decision is an important consideration when it is not an in-family situation.

  • Examine the definition of an independent contractor – How is long-term factored so that there is greater certainty of cash flow to pay for equipment?
  • Is it plausible that “advertising” outside of Maine is needed to spread information about the opportunity better?
  • Programs with the corrections system – Maine Forest Service works at Charleston Correctional Center. What are the opportunities here?
  • Let’s track what works and what doesn’t – EVALUATION.
  • It is time to break the mold – the previous way of thinking is no longer valid. A new adjusted approach needs to match the new reality we now face.

Industry Awareness

  • Education System
  • In small rural communities, the focus is on getting people to attend college, but that is not the only option available.
  • The industry needs to connect with youth at the middle and early high school levels. 
  • As we advance, there also needs to be an effort to broach historical demographic challenges to promote a more diverse forest industry.
  • Engaging at the middle school level so that students are aware of and exposed to opportunities in the forest industry early.
  • Is it possible to establish a gap year program for recent high school graduates to experience opportunities at various training levels?
  • Approximately 80% of students that go through Junior Achievement pursue employment in the field they are trained in – how does the forest industry connect with this network?
  • Many of all ages of school are unaware that this is a viable career path.
  • How can a broader message be sent – including to the parents of students?
  • When interested individuals or groups are identified, there needs to be a support group established to connect with those students. A day for career shadowing may be a good way to achieve this connection.
  • How can forestry students get credit for the logging training program – at the University of Maine and in the community college program?
  • Conduct ride-a-longs and site visits/tours. Get them on-site to see the equipment operating and professionals working – this will provide a real sense of what it’s like to work in the woods. 

>It is important to note that the TOPS program offers High School credit for job shadowing.

  • Some schools are already conducting outdoor classrooms – this is an opportunity to introduce people to the forest industry.
  • Many of all ages of school are unaware that this is a viable career path.  
  • Conduct a student survey to determine which parts of the forest industry interest them.
  • Work on outreach to parents, teachers, and guidance counselors.
  • Trade schools focused on skilled-labor occupations such as plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, and electricians are what we’re competing with – the industry needs to consider the best approach to provide an equally viable pathway to employment.
  • Careers
  • Career opportunity awareness is essential for growth. Perception is critical to this end – the vision of an old, dying industry as opposed to a vibrant, high-tech, and skilled industry. This narrative may help to curb the cycle of loss occurring in rural Maine’s population.
  • Promoting outside-the-box thinking, such as unconventional or unique opportunities to find a career in your hometown. 
  • FOR/Maine – it would be helpful to keep the marketing effort that showcases the industry and jobs at the forefront. 
  • We are losing talent to other industries across the state, and new companies coming to Maine will only serve to increase competition.
  • What are entry-level opportunities in the forest industry, and how should those opportunities be highlighted?
  • Messaging
  • We need to communicate our message better.
  • We want to be able to highlight the efforts of the industry and engage with the community.
  • Image and branding need to become top priorities for the industry.
  • Celebrate successes so that the industry presents a positive image to the general public.
  • The forest industry must focus on getting better at telling our positive stories and, in turn, be sure that is the message that gets to the media.
  • Technology
  • In this technological age, we must tell our stories on screens. This medium provides us with a way to connect to the youth directly – how do we leverage that? 
  • If social media is a focus, are videos the best tool for outreach on those platforms? 
  • How do we translate equipment operations to video games?
  • What is the best way to capture the technology that is now an integral part of today’s forest industry?
  • Other Outreach
  • There have been some good programs to introduce the forest industry to youth, but there have also been some headwinds to overcome.
  • Boy Scouts of America has a Forestry Merit Badge – the industry can support this at the troop (community) level.

Attracting New People to the Industry

  • Let’s think about recruiting from other places.
  • Explore recruiting foreign labor that focuses on individual ethnic or cultural groups in order to create a community, not just a workforce.
  • In Maine, bringing in semi-skilled or unskilled labor is hard – this is a federal issue.
  • Available/affordable housing is an issue in many areas of rural Maine.
  • What about refugees and asylum seekers – is there a way to incorporate them into the workforce faster?
  • There is not a single solution available, but rather a host of solutions that will be needed.
  • What is the best way to welcome people from foreign countries into rural communities? 
  • How does the forest industry attract UMaine students to retain them as in-state employees rather than lose them to out-of-state employers? Many choose to attend UMaine for a reason, and the forest industry in the state should figure out how to encourage them to stay.

Workforce Retention 

  • Work-life balance is an issue (particularly for loggers) that creates problems. 

>Work-life balance is also an issue at the factory level. 

  • Toured a west coast operation last year – the business owner was focused on finding talent and resorted to recruiting youth that wanted to work in the woods, then committed to training them. 
  • What ability is there, if any, to project one’s career path? Particularly how to move up and how to increase skill set along the way.
  • What are the vesting opportunities once people are attracted into the industry?       

>What are the added incentives for those who stay?