July 01, 2016

What Can Loggers Do About Recruiting Challenges?

When he was growing up, Chad Nimmer did not plan to become a logger. His family was not in the logging business, so his father didn't push him in to forestry. So Nimmer explored career options that would fulfill his love of working outdoors.

His exploration ultimately led him to the timber industry, and he worked a couple different jobs before joining Pierce Timber Company, a family-owned business in hometown. After a couple years, he and his mentor Hugh Thompson purchased what is now known as Suwannee Forest Products in Fargo, Ga., which continues to produce for Pierce Timber Company.

Nimmer, 38, is just the kind of person the industry needs. He's young, ambitious, and sees the potential of a career in forestry. Unfortunately, there are not many people choosing his career path, and it's leaving logging struggling to find good, young people to hire.

For an industry that faces many challenges, recruiting is perhaps the largest. In the short term, to lower costs, loggers are reducing their headcount, using only what crews that they can utilize most efficiently. In many cases, this means equipment is sitting idle and revenue opportunities are lost.

In the long term, the logging recruiting challenge will contribute to logger business consolidation and/or timber owners and mills hiring their own crews to meet demand for wood. Mills outsourced wood supply to timber owners and loggers some time ago but may be forced to take control again if loggers cannot meet their requirements.

Why is this happening? It's not for lack of people. There are plenty of young men and women, like Nimmer, who might be interested in a career in logging, if they only knew about it; kids who are interested in working outdoors, who are intrigued by operating equipment, or who are looking for unique opportunities.

It starts at the high school level. Just about every vocation you can think of has a process and an organization in place to educate young people about their industries, to show them the opportunities that exist, what the job is like, what kind of training is required, and what kind of living can be made. Farming, construction, manufacturing, plumbing, and other skilled trades all have effective recruitment programs, active in high schools around the country.

Programs like this used to exist for forestry/logging, but over the years have diminished. Today there may be just a few high school programs sprinkled in some communities around the country, and there is no real industry-wide effort.

Logging is at another disadvantage because it's an "invisible business." People see construction sites almost every day. Ask someone what a farm looks like, and they can give a pretty accurate description. But logging happens in remote parts of the country, well beyond the view of the everyday observer. Very few people have any concept of what logging is all about.

So if you ask someone to describe what loggers do, they will rely on their imagination, or worse, what they see on television. They might describe backbreaking labor, chainsaws, and dangerous working conditions, all for minimal pay. These are some of the misconceptions people have about logging, and they are doubtless contributing to the recruiting problem the industry faces.

So what can be done about it?
Certainly, an industry response is in order. It's up to regional and national logging organizations to address the issue head-on and develop a plan to promote logging as a viable career choice for young people. But an effort like that takes time, and rather than waiting for it to happen, loggers can begin to take the initiative themselves and try to improve the situation in their local areas.

Here are a few things loggers can do to improve recruiting efforts on their own:

Tell your story
You know that logging can be a lucrative, rewarding career, but as we noted above, most people don't have that knowledge. By sharing your story, you can change people's perceptions. Why did you get into logging? What is it like to work in the woods? What sense of pride do you get by providing a resource that is so important to people's lives? What do you love about what you do? Every chance you get, take the opportunity to tell others about what it's like to be a logger and why you think others should consider it as a career.

Reach out to students
When it comes to creating an interest in logging, you can't start too young. Hosting open houses for young kids and their parents – letting them see the equipment, telling them about how logs are used and how to keep forests healthy – is a great way to start. At the high school level, you can work with guidance counselors to educate kids about careers in logging. Talk with students about how they can get info about the timber industry, what career opportunities exist, and what education they need. Offer job shadowing or field trip opportunities for students who want to see logging first hand.

Become active in your local business community
Chances are your local town or city has a chamber of commerce, a Rotary Club, or other organizations of business and community leaders. These organizations can offer great opportunities for you to share your story and to get connected to people interested in careers in logging. By getting involved in committees, participating in job fairs and other events, and networking with other business leaders, you can raise your company's profile and create awareness for the logging industry in general.

The recruitment issue facing loggers has indeed reached a crisis point. But that does not mean loggers need to sit back and wait for the inevitable. By taking the initiative, you can make a difference in your local community and create a pipeline of eager, qualified young men and women to help you meet the growing demand for wood.

Once you are successful at recruiting quality employees, your job isn't done. You need to develop them, train them, and make sure they are satisfied and are growing in their careers so they stay with you and continue to help your company to be successful, productive and profitable.