By: Sen. Susan M. Collins
Maine’s timber industry is an integral part of our economy and continues to be the primary economic driver of countless rural communities throughout our State. To prevent severe worker shortages and to provide good jobs, it is essential that the next generation be prepared for the logging profession as experienced operators of modern timber harvesting equipment.
I recently visited the Mechanized Logging Operations Program (MLOP), a three-month training program, located in the woods of Western Maine. MLOP is an outstanding initiative created in partnership among the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine; Northern Maine, Eastern Maine, and Washington County Community Colleges; logging contractors; and industry partners including Milton CAT and Nortrax.
Students enrolled in this training program are spending the summer learning how to safely harvest timber using the sophisticated state-of-the-art machines they will encounter in the logging industry. This summer’s class of 15 students is the third since the program launched in 2017.
It was inspiring to meet these young Mainers who are passionate about learning new skills that will propel them on a promising career path and strengthen our state’s forestry sector. MLOP is an excellent example of the type of robust workforce development we need to create and sustain good jobs.
This terrific program is made possible by a remarkable collaboration among instructors, logging contractors, landowners, and equipment manufacturers. Just as impressive is the determination of the students to succeed. During my visit, I watched as Tia Cyr, a young woman from Aroostook County, expertly harvested large trees on just her second day of training on that piece of equipment. It was an impressive accomplishment.
Along with learning new skills, the students are taught how to navigate the industry and how to stay safe in the woods. Students are responsible for paying for their transportation, housing, and food costs. All other expenses such as tuition and personal protective equipment are made possible by both Maine Quality Centers and Put ME to Work grants.
According to the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, approximately 95 percent of logging in our State now relies on heavy mechanized equipment. It usually takes at least a year of training and experience before an operator becomes skilled enough to run this equipment safely and efficiently, and the cost for companies to train each of these operators themselves is about $100,000. This three-month professional training program introduces participants to state-of-the-art logging machinery and equipment, and the program provides a more efficient pathway to train new technicians.
Mechanized logging operators are among the highest paid members of the logging workforce. A study conducted in 2014 by the PLC found the average annual salary for workers employed by logging firms in Maine was nearly $43,000. Many current operators are reaching retirement age, and the steep costs of training new operators is driving up both demand and wages.
I’ve always been a strong advocate of apprenticeship programs, and MLOP is exactly what we need to move Maine forward and grow our rural economy. I have also cosponsored legislation to support Maine’s forest products industry, including the Future Logging Careers Act to allow parents who own or operate a logging or mechanized operation to employ their 16- and 17-year-old children under certain circumstances.
Maine and its vast forests are neighbors to one of the largest population centers in the country, with a growing demand for advanced, renewable, and environmentally responsible building materials and energy sources. Maine’s natural resources, combined with our spirit of innovation, determination, and new generation of skilled logging professionals, set the stage for a future of endless opportunities.