AUGUSTA – Maine’s Forest Opportunity Roadmap, or FOR/Maine, announced the release of its Workforce Development Strategy for the Forest Products Industry. The report, prepared by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine, reflects that the industry’s growth is dependent on people. And while the industry is facing similar challenges as other industries in the state with an aging workforce and challenges to find the right people to replace those retiring, there is a path forward for success, growth, and opportunity.
“This Workforce Development Strategy is a significant component of the plan to drive growth in the Forest Products Industry to reach $12 billion in economic output by the year 2025,” said Steve Schley, chairperson of the FOR/Maine steering committee. “A well equipped workforce is the only way we can achieve our goals for growing this sector. The Workforce Development Strategy provides some helpful recommendations for this industry to attract the right people and ensure not just sustainability, but growth.”
Challenges associated with the industry regarding the aging workforce are not unlike other industries in Maine. However, the numbers are still eye-opening. Forty percent of the people working in forest products harvesting are at or near retirement age (55-plus), and the same is true with those working in pulp & paper manufacturing. Thirty-seven percent of those working in forest products transportation are at or near retirement age, and 26 percent of those working in wood products manufacturing are in the same range. The report offers projections for the number of workers it would take to replace the aging workforce once they do retire, and those labor replacement demands for the entire sector range from 4,770 to 5,200 over the next 15 years. This represents around 30 percent of the current workforce size.
Recommendations in the report for additional workforce and future growth include greater education and outreach of the opportunities in the sector to Maine secondary schools and advisors; reaching more out-of-state workers; using the existing forestry workforce to expand learning opportunities; and marketing career opportunities that exist within the industry.
“I’m not sure everyone fully appreciates the career opportunities that exist in the forest products industry and how varied those opportunities are,” said Schley. “There are jobs that span many skillsets and interests, and those opportunities continue to evolve with research, development, and innovation. It is up to us to make sure that people in Maine – and outside of the state – are aware of what exists, and understand that these are good jobs with good pay attached to them, and they will be here not only to stay, but to grow if we all work hard.”
The report indicates that careers in the forest products sector are sometimes overlooked, in part because of hearing about negative news such as mill closures. The report strongly recommends that the industry help to make the public aware of the many technological advances and innovations taking place within the forest products industry in Maine.
“This industry is doing amazing things,” said Schley. “And while it seems like just yesterday we were hearing about there being very few opportunities in Maine for exciting careers, this report re-enforces that there are exciting career opportunities with the Forest Products Industry. The innovation, technological advances, and new ways of doing business will all continue with new people joining this workforce. The opportunities for an exciting career exist, and the industry is dependent upon people taking advantage of those opportunities. I am excited about the future of this industry, and the Workforce Development Report supports every ounce of my excitement.”
FOR/Maine is a unique cross-sector collaboration between industry, communities, government, education and nonprofits, with a focus on Maine’s role in the global forest economy. The coalition was created with support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Maine Timberlands Charitable Trust and Maine Technology Institute.
FOR/Maine, released an action plan in September of 2018 with a goal of creating actionable steps to grow Maine’s forest-based economy. The plan included a combination of transportation, community outreach, workforce development, and strategic investment attraction.
More details on the FOR/Maine initiative can be found at www.formaine.org.