Blake Manley has produced videos about jobs in forestry and other natural resource industries – published on YouTube – that have gone viral and attracted national attention. A teacher at Sweet Home High School in Sweet Home, Oregon, his ‘Manley Jobs’ videos portray hands-on experience in logging operations and other fields.
Manley started producing the videos in the fall of 2020 as a way to reach out to students who weren’t being served well by distance learning. The first episode was filmed on a cell phone and focused on working as a fishing guide. The next episode was about logging work.
From there, the series caught the attention of the Oregon Logging Conference, where the videos were showcased in 2021. Since then Manley and his video series have received national attention from Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” show. Manley also was the keynote speaker at the 2022 Oregon Logging Conference.
TimberWest writer Dawn Killough sat down with Manley to discuss how technology is influencing forestry education and practices and to learn more about the success of the Sweet Home High School forestry program.
TimberWest: How has new technology in the forestry industry encouraged students to join?
Manley: There’s a lot of new technology out there, and one of the benefits that we have here in Sweet Home is that the Santiam mill for Weyerhaeuser’s just down the road, and it’s extremely technologically advanced, so students get to see that. And through our video production they’ve seen some of the more technologically advanced machinery. A lot of kids, if they don’t come from a forestry background, still think that everyone cuts down a tree with a chainsaw. Being able to show them how technology is applied is vital.
I think the logging industry is dealing with the same thing everybody else is, and that’s a lack of labor. Because of this, and the fact that you need less labor to run some of the newer technology, the industry has embraced technology. Companies can’t find workers, and technology eliminates some of that need. I think of the tethered logging systems that are just fantastic right now, but I’m not sure that I would want to run one. I think about the claws on the skylines now instead of all just being chokers and all the technology that’s involved with that. The industry’s coming along, and it’s quicker than I think maybe it would have been had it not needed to come along so quickly.
TimberWest: What has inspired you to help the next generation of forestry professionals?
Manley: I grew up in the industry. My grandpa was a cat skin logger. My dad started in the woods in 1972, and by 1980 he owned his own small company, Manley Brothers Logging. I was born in 1981, so I haven’t spent any years of my life outside of the industry. There’s a saying that we used on one of the videos, that “in my family we don’t bleed red, we bleed saw dust.” That’s the truth. My passion for the industry is the easy part.
The hard part was trying to weave that passion with my passion for the younger generation. I was a coach and an athletic director, and I was officiating high school basketball and football while cutting logs and running machinery for my dad. I was really trying to tear myself apart because both of them are full-time gigs. And so, when I was able to weave education and forestry together in my current role, it was perfect for me. I already loved working with the next generation, and I have this massive passion for forestry. It was the perfect fit.
TimberWest: How do you think YouTube and the digital work you’re doing has helped you connect with the younger generation?
Manley: It’s where they learn. We try to put round pegs in square holes far too often, especially in education. Kids want hands-on stuff, and they learn digitally now. And it’s not just the pandemic. I think it was happening before then, but not at the rate that it’s happening now. When we came up with the idea of ‘Manley Jobs’ and doing job shadows during distance learning, it was because that’s where we had to teach them at the time. We don’t have to teach them there now, but we are still finding that’s where they’re accessing information.
They access it through TikTok videos, Reels, Instagram, and YouTube, and they access it on their own, rather than it being shoved into their face. I think that’s a good thing. It gives them a chance to see something that they might enjoy. When they are back in the regular classroom, they realize they need to learn certain things because they’re going to need them. Some students will watch the videos and also get to learn hands-on through a forestry program like ours. We just want them to know what options are out there, and we are using this technology to do that.
TimberWest: How have machine simulators helped your students?
Manley: Last summer I went to a workshop at Oregon State University. They have their own simulators. They have simple ones and more complex, three-screen ones. But the ones that we were using were the simple one-screen version with John Deere controls. It was cool how lifelike that simulator was. It didn’t move your seat or anything. It was only on the screen, but it was very lifelike, and the concepts were good. You could make your own forest. I said, ‘Holy cow, if I can make my own forest, then I can put defects and all kinds of stuff in it.’
This brought up a whole conversation with my students about what trees should stay if you’re thinning. How do you manage this forest? Why does it look this way? And I can put more or less dead wood into the model and blame it on whatever I want. ‘A spruce budworm came through and killed all the spruce, and that’s why they’re dead.’ If we can give context to what they’re seeing, the students always learn better.
We partnered with Oregon State University on a pilot program to bring one into a high school because we didn’t have any forestry simulators in the high schools at that time. We ran one here, and all of a sudden we’ve got a way for these kids to learn something that’s practical. One of the benefits for us here is that one of our local loggers uses this exact logging system. They run John Deere harvesters and forwarders, exactly what we were running on the simulator. So, you could easily translate it to a job. It wasn’t just a game.
We did an episode on cut-to-length logging, and I could dive even more into it. Here’s the simulator, here’s the episode of cut-to-length logging, and here’s the company you can go work for. And it brings it all together. I’m a hundred percent sure that there were six to 10 students that were all into my program because of that simulator last year. For some of them it’s the chainsaws. They love to go run the chainsaws and cut firewood. Awesome. Some of them love to cut boards and make a product in our sawmill here. Excellent. It was just another way to get them hooked into the industry and our program.
TimberWest: Where are your students going after they leave your program?
Manley: Everywhere. Companies want new young blood. You can mold them into what you want. Last year we had several students go straight into the logging industry here locally, doing everything from setting chokers to running machinery to mechanic’s work. We have several students that are pursuing four-year degrees at different colleges and universities, some at Oregon State and at least one at the University of Montana for forestry. Several pursued careers in wildland fire this year. We have several going to different two-year programs. And Knife River came to our job fair last spring and hired a couple young ladies to run equipment for them, which was pretty exciting with the wage package that Knife River set up. Weyerhaeuser also picked up a couple working in the lumber mill.
So, really kids are leaving this program with a set of skills to go into the industry. We’re not teaching them just to teach them. One of the things that we are focusing on here at Sweet Home is not just graduation. We don’t just want to get a kid to graduation. We want to give them skill sets so that they hit that graduation, close that chapter, but there’s more to the book. And I believe programs like mine do that.
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