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Maine colleges to train for logging jobs

Maine’s first post-secondary training program for future operators of mechanized logging equipment is launching this summer thanks to a partnership between three Maine community colleges, the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, and industry partners.

The 12-week certificate program will begin June 19 in Millinocket, in conjunction with Eastern Maine Community College, and will rotate to other locations around the state as each class completes it. The supervised training will be hands-on, putting students in modern equipment, in the woods, under actual logging conditions to better prepare them for good paying careers in the logging industry. Land for operations is being provided by Katahdin Forest Management and training space will be provided by PLC founding member Gerald Pelletier, Inc.

“This program is critical to the future of Maine’s logging industry and it is equally critical to let young people know that despite the transition of the forest products industry, there is in fact a future for this industry,” PLC Executive Director Dana Doran, said. “Most skilled equipment operators are now at or nearing retirement age and there is a shortage of skilled operators despite the market retractions that have taken place recently.”

The new program will work in tandem with the state’s current vocational training system and is expected to draw many of its students from within the logging industry itself as well as from Maine’s four high school vocational logging programs. For the first time, logging operators will be trained similarly to other advanced trade occupations with a high school and postsecondary approach.

The training will give students a broad overview of the most common mechanical systems found in modern timber harvesting equipment, and an understanding of the variables of timber growth, tree species, and markets. It will also include a strong emphasis on safety.

Approximately 95 percent of logging in Maine now relies on mechanized equipment including feller bunchers and harvesters, delimbers, grapple skidders, and forwarders. It generally takes at least a year of training and experience before an operator becomes skilled enough to run this equipment safely and efficiently. The cost for companies to train these operators themselves is approximately $100,000 each.

It was for this reason that the PLC partnered with the Maine Community College System and industry to create the program. It has been jointly developed by the PLC and Northern Maine Community College, Eastern Maine Community College, and Washington County Community College with generous support from Milton CAT/CAT Forest Products, Nortrax Inc./John Deere, and other industry partners.

The program would not have been possible without the support of Maine’s lawmakers, who made funding available for it through the ‘Put ME to Work Program’ to support creation of new job training programs at Maine’s community colleges. The program enjoyed bipartisan support, with former Maine Speaker of the House Mark W. Eves (D-North Berwick) and Senate President Michael Thibodeau (R-Winterport) speaking at the press conference where it was announced in late 2015.

Veteran Maine loggers say the program will be vital for replacing retiring operators.

“At some point there’s going to be this huge drop-off of experienced and trained loggers that are very cost-effective for the industry, they’re going to disappear and if we don’t have a program in place to fill that demand when it happens, we’re going to be in a lot worse shape than what is being predicted right now,” Steve Hanington, President of Hanington Brothers Inc. in Macwahoc Plantation, said.

Those who complete the program will come to companies with enough skills to greatly reduce the time it will take to bring them up to speed as operators.

For more information on the program contact: Leah Buck, Assistant Dean of Continuing Education at NMCC at (207)-768-2768. More information is also available online at http://www.nmcc.edu/industry-customized-training/mechanized-forest-operations/.

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