PORTLAND, Maine. - A recent study commissioned by the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine (PLC) found that the state is facing a shortage of loggers and log truckers due to a lack of wage growth.
 
The study found that wages for logging equipment operators and log truckers in Maine are lower than those for comparable jobs in competing industries in the state, and this combined with a tight labor market and looming retirement for large numbers of loggers is concerning for Maine’s forest economy.
 
The average earnings for all employment in Maine’s logging industry have increased by five percent since 2010. That averages to just over $2,100 per worker compared to an average increase of $5,500 in comparative industries, such as construction, wood manufacturing, and pulp and paper manufacturing.
 

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The study, prepared by the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine, explains that this shortage could hinder the growth of the $8.5 billion forest products industry in the state if wage growth does not occur.

“The root of Maine’s vital forest products economy [is] the logging industry,” says Dana Doran, executive director of the PLC. “[It] must be able to offer higher wages to compete for existing workers and attract new ones at a time when they are desperately needed to support a resurgent forest products industry.”
 
What has been limiting the ability of contractors to raise pay for workers is dwindling profit margins as costs of doing business rises. With low unemployment and strong competition for skilled operators of heavy machinery and trucks, logging contractors are struggling simply to keep the workers they have, let alone attract new ones.
 
“We know from surveying our own membership, which cuts approximately 75 percent of all wood harvested in Maine,” says Doran. “That the industry is already unable to fill an estimated 750 to 1,000 jobs today.”
 
According to the study, recently announced expansions increasing demand for wood will require an additional 100 jobs in the logging industry in the immediate future, but occupation projections suggest upwards of 200 workers per year will need to be replaced over the next 8-10 years due to an aging logger workforce.
 
In addition to Maine expansions, a broad coalition working to diversify the state’s wood products businesses, attract capital investments, and develop greater economic prosperity for communities impacted by recent mill closures has announced an action plan to grow Maine’s forest economy from the current annual $8.5 billion to $12 billion by 2025.
 
This growth would position the state to compete in and take advantage of substantial global market opportunities with much of the projected 40 percent growth coming from new markets for the state. Such growth would also require a significant expansion of the logging and log trucking workforce in Maine, says Doran.
 
With the study citing over 400 workers in the industry at retirement age and an additional 850 workers reaching retirement age within the next 10 years, attracting younger generations of workers will be critical in replacing the retiring workforce.
 

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In an attempt to attract the younger generation, Maine lawmakers have introduced a bill that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work in mechanized logging operations under parental supervision. Currently, the minimum age allowed for working in the trade is 18.

It is hoped that this legislation will level the playing field for the logging trade with other agricultural fields by allowing family members to learn about and get experience in the trade of logging from an earlier age so that they may carry on the family business.
 
“By allowing interested young people to learn on the job with their parents and grandparents,” says Sen. Angus King. “We can help train the next generation of loggers, strengthen our forest products industry, and ensure that this vital rural Maine industry continues to grow and thrive.”
 
The bill also includes safety provisions, including prohibiting manual chain saw use by minors. The PLC supports the legislation and believes that it will help ensure a future generation of timber harvesters in the state.

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