SUMMIT TOWNSHIP – The Mechanized Logging Operations Program (MLOP), a training program of the Maine Community College System (MCCS) in collaboration with the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine (PLC), graduated 10 students in a socially distanced, live-streamed event at an active timber harvest site in the woods northeast of Old Town, Friday, Oct. 9.
Students in the 12-week certificate program spent the summer and early fall harvesting timber at the site using sophisticated state-of-the-art machines like those they will encounter in the logging industry. The hands-on experience students gained operating equipment is something unavailable anywhere else in Maine and neighboring states.
This year’s class is the fourth since the program launched in 2017. The program, run out of Northern Maine Community College (NMCC), was the first and remains one of the only post-secondary training programs in Maine to hold classes in the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. This was possible thanks to rigorous safety protocols and the outdoor nature of most of the training, which involves students operating equipment while communicating with instructors and other students via radios.
Speaking at the event, which was streamed on Zoom for friends and family of the graduates, Dana Doran, Executive Director of the PLC, thanked the students for their hard work and dedication, congratulating them on completing the program despite the challenges of the pandemic.
“I couldn’t be more proud to stand in front of you today, Doran said. “I want to commend you on your perseverance, I want to commend you on your patience, this has certainly not been an easy summer for any of you, but your hard work will pay dividends.”
PLC First Vice President Tony Madden, owner of A.W. Madden, agreed, telling the students that even though the logging industry is struggling right now the importance of the MLOP program to the industry remains high, the industry will be strong again, and the skills and education the students have gained will allow them to succeed in that industry.
“I wish we had a program available like this when I started logging, I learned the hard way and made a lot of expensive mistakes,” Madden said. “Trained operators like you are needed now, and will be in even higher demand in the future. The future is yours, never stop learning, you will succeed.”
2020 graduates include: Matt Southard of Frankfort, Chris Meakin of Dedham, John McAvoy of Sidney, Noah Holesha of Bangor, Tory Porter of Hampden, Carl Ross of China, Brian Lynch of Camden, Greg Stewart of Harmony, John MacNiell of Millinocket, and Chris Pedersen of Winterport.
The Mechanized Logging Operations Program was created thanks to a partnership between the MCCS, the PLC, and industry partners.
The program gives 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 also includes a strong emphasis on safety.
Mechanized logging operators are among the highest paid members of the logging workforce. Demand for skilled operators of the feller bunchers, harvesters, grapple skidders, forwarders, delimbers, and other mechanized logging equipment that now harvests more than 95 percent of all timber in Maine is strong even in a down economy. Many current operators are reaching retirement age and the steep costs of training new operators is driving up demand and wages.
The program is working in tandem with the state’s current vocational training system and has drawn many of its students from within the logging industry itself as well as from Maine’s five Career and Technical High School logging programs in Dyer Brook, Farmington, Frenchville, Norway/South Paris and Rumford/Mexico. For the first time, logging operators are being trained similarly to other advanced trade occupations with a high school and postsecondary pathway approach.
The program is only made possible thanks to generous support from industry partners including Milton CAT/Caterpillar, Nortrax Inc./John Deere, Weiler, Pro Pac, Labonville Inc., Davco, Katahdin Fire Company, Waratah, American Forest Management, Randall Madden Trucking, and Madden Timberlands, Inc.
The program has been supported since its inception by Maine Quality Centers, a MCCS program to develop and support skilled in-demand and high wage occupations in Maine.