Developing, Recruiting, and Retaining the Forest Industry Workforce


Earlier this year, FRA’s Northeast Region held a Forest Forum asking participants to share their ideas on how to build and retain a strong workforce. Of course, this challenge isn’t unique to the Northeast, and in a previous Woods to Mill post, I shared the ideas that forum participants contributed on ways to accomplish this critical goal.

This Forest Forum was inspired by a podcast by The Northern Logger, a magazine that chronicles the forest industry in the Northeast and Lakes States. I’m going to share some of the excellent ideas offered by forest industry leaders in that podcast because it may help FRA members across the country address workforce development and retention challenges.

As noted in the show description:
“One of the biggest challenges for forest products businesses is finding good workers and retaining them. The labor shortages across many industries in the US these last few years have made it even harder to attract and retain exceptional employees – essential to running a successful company. In this episode, five leaders in the industry share their thoughts, personal experiences, and the various things they are doing to attract and retain top-quality workers.”

Here’s a quick summary of what people had to say:

Sam Lincoln, Lincoln Farm Timber Harvesting (Vermont)

  • Plan larger (non-emergency) maintenance projects for downtime in order to keep the team employed
  • Compensation – needs to be at the leading edge on pay, but also include benefits
    • Holidays
    • Retirement plan
    • Can I add other benefits?
    • Can I add a partner enterprise to keep employees busy?
      • An example would be firewood processing.
  • Positive environment for employees
    • Company-sponsored group lunch every Friday

Brian Souers, Treeline, Inc (Maine logger)

  • Diversify business to keep people employed
  • Hire people to meet their needs – what do folks want to do?
    • Some want room for growth
    • Some want to be comfortable in one position
  • Be transparent with your people
    • Needs to be true in good and bad times
  • Value employees/company culture
    • Company events
    • Weekend trip annually
    • Recognition
    • Safety

Jed Whiting, Stratton Lumber (Maine sawmill)

  • A better employee experience/increased employee engagement
    • Remodel or add new break areas
    • Increase interaction with information (screens in break rooms)
    • Employee recognition and sharing
  • Advertising ideas – including social media
    • A Boot Bus – we pay for a pair of boots for each employee
  • We evaluated a shuttle bus for employees to draw employees from a greater distance but went with a weekly fuel stipend (mileage based)
    • Have since dropped this initiative as gas prices have returned
  • Benchmark wages and benefits against competing local employers to ensure competitive compensation

Andy Irish, Irish Family Logging (Maine)

  • Well-maintained, modern logging equipment
  • Treat people like you want to be treated

As the entire forestry industry (as well as almost every other industry everywhere) scrambles to make sure we are staffed for the future, these insights are helpful and may inspire you to think of ways your business can attract and retain a robust workforce. I would love to hear your ideas.