By Mary Bullwinkel
Aprogram established by the Pacific Forest Foundation and administered by the Pacific Logging Congress is just one of several helping recruit and train a younger generation workforce for the logging and forestry industries. The program is called Adopt a High School, and over the last several years, it has been reaching out to students in Washington, Oregon, and California regarding employment possibilities. Two other events, one in Oregon (the Future Forestry Workers Career Day) and one in California (the Redwood Region Resource Rally) also educate students about careers in logging and forestry.
Connecting One on One
The Adopt a High School Program is unique in that resource professionals pay personal visits to schools, to connect with students one on one. It is proving successful in reaching out to the next generation of loggers, foresters, and timber industry workers.
The Pacific Forest Foundation established the Adopt a High School Program because of the difficulty in finding qualified (let alone experienced) workers in the logging industry.
“Instead of waiting for workers to come to you, Adopt a High School brings you and your company to the students and employees of tomorrow,” says Roger Smith of Olympia, Washington-based R. L. Smith Logging. Smith was one of the forward thinkers who helped develop the program.
Don’t Complain – Do Something
Calling attention to what appears to be a large segment of older employees retiring from the logging industry in the next five to ten years, Smith says, “We can’t wait for younger employees to come to us, we need to be proactive in reaching out to them. I have 40 employees, so recruiting is an ongoing battle,” he adds, “but I’m not doing this just for me, I am doing this for the industry.”
Smith says he enjoys engaging with the high school students. “The interaction with the students when presenting before the classes is actually kind of fun. It’s a chance to educate and answer questions about the industry.”
Several logging companies in the Pacific Northwest have gotten involved in the Adopt a High School program, but Smith says there’s really a need to do more to address the workplace employment gap. “Don’t complain, do something,” he says. “We need more companies to reach out to the schools in their area.”
Taking It to the School
For the last three years, Smith has “adopted” Elma High School, connecting with 120 to 150 students per year. Several of those students are now working for R.L. Smith Logging, first starting cleaning up in the shop then working their way up to mechanic, equipment operator, or logger. One student that Smith connected with late last year was interested in job shadowing during Christmas break from school.
Part of the message Smith and the Adopt a High School program takes to the students is that graduates have a choice between continuing on to college and getting started in a trade. “There are good paying jobs available now in our industry,” Smith says. He also stresses the need to be drug-free, reliable, and responsible, and the importance of having a valid driver’s license.
Making Connections in California
In California, the largest employer in the town of Weaverville (approximately 3,600 residents) is Trinity River Lumber Company. The company “adopted” Trinity River High School, reaching out to the local students by bringing them to the sawmill, taking them to an active logging site, and having them plant trees.
“We wanted to expose the students to the entire process, from the woods to wood products,” says Bryan Taylor, a Registered Professional Forester for Trinity River Lumber Company.
The students were taken to a specific timber harvest plan and learned about the entire process, including vegetation management, watershed management, and restoration, as well as the paperwork required, timing, and cost of the plan. “The students planted red fir seedlings, and between now and next spring, they will return to the site to do a seedling survival analysis,” said Taylor.
“We want to engage them, get them involved, and give them a hands-on and face-on experience,” Taylor said, adding, “It’s got to be fun or the students aren’t interested. If the students have an interest, we want to lead them down a path [for joining the industry].
Reaching out at Port Blakely
Port Blakely/PLS International has jumped on board and is reaching out to students in both Oregon and Washington. PLS International is a division of Port Blakely.
PLS International log buyer Brian Rupp says, “As we look at the average age of a logger in the five western states, the longevity of our industry is not good. Younger individuals are not entering the industry like they did in the 1980s.” And he says, “Many loggers feel like they have run out of options in recruiting new workers for any job in the woods, and sawmill owners express the same frustrations.”
Port Blakely/PLS International has been working with students from Clatskanie High School (in Oregon) for the past two years, hosting field trips for the students to the Port Blakely/PLS International Log Yard, and last year they visited an active logging site and a sawmill in Kalama, Washington.
This year, the company arranged for students from Kelso High School (in Washington) to visit Lewis River Reforestation. “The managers of the facility showed the students the varying stages of growth, as well as equipment needed to run the nursery,” says Rupp. “Students asked questions and even asked for jobs during the winter break.”
Create the Connection
The Adopt a High School program and the other hands-on career day events are more than just outreach; the focus is on forming a connection between the students and industry professionals.
“We have been interviewing our own business contacts (loggers, sawmills, scalers, truckers, etc.),” says Dan Bowden of PLS International, “to gauge their interest in showing small groups of students their operations. To date, we have had nearly 100 percent success in setting up field trips for small groups.”
He says that he is encouraged by the quality of teachers and students they have reached out to so far. “We are equally excited about how eager our contractors and acquaintances are to give their time and energy to support these students through this program.”
Materials Are Online
The Adopt a High School program materials are available in downloadable format from the Pacific Logging Congress website (www.pacficiloggingcongress.org), including a customizable Power Point presentation to help prepare for reaching out to high school students.
“By being proactive and bringing your company, and our industry as a whole, into view for these students, you’re having the opportunity to redefine any misunderstandings they have about the profession of logging,” says Smith. “Be factual. Enlighten them on the technology, job opportunities, pay, and benefits. A responsible work atmosphere can do a lot to create a curiosity [in the students] and give them a goal.”
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