To Attract People to the Forest Industry, We Need to Be Attractive


It’s no secret that the forest products sector needs to attract people into the industry. No matter what sector or state, anyone I talk to tells me that recruiting and retaining talent is one of their significant challenges. I’ve written about this before for FRA, including Exposure to the Woods: Bringing Newcomers to the Forest Industry and The Forest Industry Needs More Young Talent.

In a recent conversation with an industry leader about this issue, I was told what should be strikingly obvious:  If we want to attract people to our industry, the industry needs to be attractive. Once you hear this, it’s self-evident. This has made me think about what makes the current and future forest industry attractive and how we can position a career in the woods or in a mill as a career path for people to explore.

  • While the forest industry need not be the most financially rewarding job a potential employee considers, it does need to provide a level of base pay and benefits that allow the individual – and perhaps a family – to have the opportunity to earn a living and provide a benefits package that addresses health and retirement. Money (and total compensation) isn’t everything, but if the job isn’t paying enough to provide a living, it’s going to be tough to attract people.
  • People like to work in the woods, and the forest industry provides very real opportunities to spend your days outside, away from an office, doing something productive. Recent research shows that logging and forestry rate (very) high for on-the-job happiness and meaningful work and low for stress. On a recent mill tour, a couple of employees expressed to me how much they like being part of a team and how much they like the tangible progress they make each day.
  • Many young people are in search of a job with a purpose – one that places a strong emphasis on sustainability.  The forest industry fulfills this requirement better than most – the growing, managing, and harvesting of trees embraces the responsible use of a renewable resource. Producing products that store carbon and provide environmental benefits, the industry contributes significantly to sustainability – something many workers say is important to their career choice.
  • We’re at the beginning of an exciting time in the industry (note – “exciting” and “stable” are not synonyms). Paper, lumber, pellets, and other products are going to be the dominant products for the near future, but there are so many emerging ways to utilize wood on the near horizon.  Mass timber, biofuels, biochar and so many other products are at the beginning of their evolution. I recently toured a house 3-D printed using wood fiber. Will all of these products succeed? Of course not, but for people drawn to innovation, the forest industry provides a vast frontier.

Of course, for any of this to matter we have to communicate these benefits and opportunities to young people, and expose them to the opportunity, and work together to make the forest products industry an attractive place to work.