What About the Industry Forester?

It’s not uncommon to hear the following questions: “Where will our future loggers come from? Where will our future truck drivers come from? How will we replace our retiring mill workers?”

But it’s not just the logging, trucking, and mill workforce that has aged and is challenged to find qualified new employees. The same can be said of the forestry workforce, where graduate foresters have historically provided the bulk of the staffing for forest industry wood procurement and land management positions. The current industry retirement wave continues, and the job market for recent forestry graduates who want to work with FRA member companies is probably better than it has been in the last 40 years.

Some companies have begun hiring new forestry graduates (or recruiting from other fields) to grow formerly downsized operations or to refill the nearly-empty management succession pipeline. But there can be a generation gap in terms of how the younger and older members of our workforce communicate, how they use technology, and how they view field work. And with the “dis-integration” of our industry over the last few decades, we have more independent links in the wood supply chain now. It may be harder for today’s forestry (or natural resource & environmental science) students to figure out what organizations undertake wood procurement and forest management and what those jobs involve. They may not realize that there are also interesting and rewarding forestry work opportunities with logging businesses and forestry service providers; that “field forestry” can be very satisfying work. Our industry is challenged to make high school students and college forestry students interested in industrial forestry careers.

FRA regional meetings have addressed “Hiring Today’s Forestry Students for Industry Careers.” In 2015, Dr. Dale Greene, Dean of the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, presented interesting insights and recommendations for recruiting and hiring, including the following:

• Be proactive and build relationships with your forestry school and forestry student organizations. Host field trips and “do it well” to create interest among the students.

• Know your forestry school administrators and professors; participate on their advisory boards, and provide input and support, so that they maintain industry connections and relevant coursework.

• If your company does not already have a forestry intern program, start one. An intern program will give you a fairly low-risk method of evaluating the student’s fit for your organization.

• Assign interns “real” work, relevant work. Treat them with respect and pay them well. You are test-driving and training your future employees.

• There are more forestry students from urban backgrounds than in the past. Think about where you ask them to live, and be flexible if possible; some may reject positions requiring them to live where there is poor internet access and few amenities.

• Remember that placement of forestry graduates is often 100% now. You must engage the recruiting and hiring process early to be competitive.

(Dr. Greene’s presentation slides are available at the following link (FRA member login required): https://forestresources.org/publications/15p46.pdf.)

What about recommendations to forestry students and recent hires? I offer them this (unsolicited!) advice: Regard every job you have as a valuable learning experience. Take to heart the words of former Louisiana-Pacific forester Rick Frost, who worked his way up from a field forester to become CEO of LP by volunteering for the hard jobs and saying “yes” to difficult work assignments: “If it is to be, then it is up to me.”

By the way, Rick Frost was a long-time FRA participant and served a term as FRA National Chairman. So, engage with FRA on your way to career success!
Rick Meyer | FRA Appalachian & Southwide Regions Manager

Rick serves as the region manager for the Appalachian & Southwide Regions