November 11, 2020
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Becky Roe: The forest sector workforce will require the integration of many skills - both technical and less tangible. The most important skill graduates can bring is the knowledge of how to work in the woods SAFELY. Whether in the cab of a piece of logging equipment, conducting fire patrol on the ground, or driving a log truck into or out of a landing, SAFETY is the top priority. Because of the industrial nature of heavy equipment operation, there is no room for, nor tolerance of, the violation of employer drug and alcohol policies. Those pursuing a career in the woods need to have a foundational understanding of the types of mechanized logging equipment used in today's modern industry, and a coachable mindset ready to be mentored and refined by experienced operators.
Technology is integrated at many levels. Equipment cabs are air-conditioned and heated; joystick controls are intuitive, and modern displays provide operators with multiple data sets to assist in making the most efficient and safe decisions when needed. The less tangible skills all job seekers can bring to the table include a strong work ethic supported by a true passion for what he/she is doing. Logging and forest worker careers are not typical 9-5 jobs. The work can be seasonal, and the days are always long. Logging and forest professionals come from diverse backgrounds and are committed to their work, sharing a deep appreciation for the responsibility of stewardship, which they are given. They understand what they are doing in the forest has an impact on the landscape and they value and respect the renewable resources with which they are trusted.
Becky Roe: Logging and forest workers are employable across the entire U.S. In California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, there are large gaps in the skilled workforce in heavy equipment logging operations, heavy equipment maintenance, and log truck driving. The West coast's 2020 fire season has put an exceptional strain on the log truck driving industry as industrial timber landowners, while experiencing significant fire impacts, compete for a limited supply of log trucks and drivers to move what can be salvaged off the forest to manufacturing facilities.
Forest managers typically have an 18-month window to salvage burned logs into merchantable lumber in efforts to recover as much value as possible. Without enough trucks and experienced, safe drivers, meeting that timeline becomes even more challenging. As the log truck driving workforce is scaled up, the need for equipment operators doing skilled work in the woods also scales up. There is no shortage of renewable resources to meet the increasing market demand for forest products, including lumber, biomass, cross-laminated timber, and other innovations serving a green economy. Any challenges in the supply are often more related to not having enough skilled workforce available to sustainably harvest and safely transport raw material from where it grows to where it goes.
Becky Roe: Technology continues to be integrated into new and innovative ways at nearly every step along the supply chain. From lessening heavy logging equipment's impact on the landscape through innovative engineering to reducing wasted fiber at the cut source on the forest, technology informs engineers and operators in making decisions that maximize the value realized out of every logging operation. Drone technology is being applied to improve the accuracy of forest inventories to guide foresters and resource managers in their treatment and reforestation decisions.
Driving technology is being researched to understand the feasibility of using electric vehicles for the transport of different types of forest products. It may be a while until we regularly see loaded electric log trucks able to traverse steep mountain slopes in the western part of the country, but in the more accessible forested areas in the south, it may happen sooner, rather than later. Mills are continually integrating technology to improve their efficiency and recovery rates so that the wood being sourced is manufactured and remanufactured as responsibly as possible. Technology also plays a critical role in documenting sustainable forest practices from the point of the material acquisition on the forest to the end product(s) with documentation linking that particular harvest point back to the reforestation practices which complete the sustainability cycle.