MLOFT 2023 Graduation Nov. 9, Congratulations!
12 students graduate at event at Madden Timberlands
PASSADUMKEAG – Graduates of Maine’s only college training program for operators of mechanized logging and forest trucking equipment were recognized Nov. 9 at the site where they have spent recent weeks completing the final, trucking stage of the program after months harvesting timber using sophisticated state-of-the-art machines like those they will encounter in the logging industry.
Family members, friends, and many supporters of the 20-week Mechanized Logging Operations and Forest Trucking Program (MLOFT) joined students at the afternoon event at Madden Timberlands on Diamond Lumber Road.
The graduates include Jarrett Dubord of Windsor; Dave Elvers of Lincoln; Caden Foster of Houlton; Cole Gagnon of Hampden; Lucas Gustin of Corinth; Dylan Hooper of Blue Hill; Adam Meng of New Sharon; Dominick Olsen of Charleston; Lauren Robinson of Guilford; Tobias Sarrio of Hancock; Cole Sillanpaa of Industry; and Arthur Unobskey of Brewer.
Will Cole, President of the Professional Logging Contractors of the Northeast (PLC), noted the program is now in its seventh year and said the role it is playing in bringing a new generation with new ideas into the industry is critical as that industry evolves and the current workforce ages.
“Nothing remains the same, change is something that forces innovation and moves us away from our comfort zone, and as this happens we make use of what worked in the past and implement innovation into the process, but oftentimes opportunities are not fully realized or missed altogether simply because of generational gaps from the past to the future,” Cole said. “Our intent with this program is to combine generational wisdom, you’ve been given an opportunity to experience the most modern harvesting equipment on the planet with the wisdom of instructors who’ve been in the industry for decades. Treasure what you’ve been taught, master it, and then start injecting some modern day commonsense into the process. Our industry needs young innovation to expose the obvious that this generation might have missed, I wish you the best.”
The program was created in 2017 by three Maine community colleges, the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine (now the Professional Logging Contractors of the Northeast), and industry partners. Dozens of graduates of the program currently work in the industry, and demand for additional logging and forest trucking operators in Maine is high and projected to remain so for the foreseeable future.
The students spent this summer and early fall harvesting timber at an active job site in Summit Township, gaining hands-on timber harvesting experience and benefiting from the guidance of veteran logging instructors for an educational experience that is unmatched by any other timber harvesting and hauling training program in Maine and neighboring states. Students then moved to Passadumkeag for more weeks of hands-on experience operating commercial trucks, loading log trailers, and gaining knowledge critical to forest trucking.
This year’s class is the first to have the opportunity to earn a CDL-A permit and receive preparation for the state driving exam. This significant addition to the program was made possible thanks to a grant from the Harold Alfond Center of Advancement for Maine’s Workforce, and the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan through Maine Quality Centers funding.
“This program has a proven track record of addressing Maine’s shortage of qualified logging operators in an efficient and affordable way, and the addition of forest trucking this year is further preparing these graduates for multiple positions in today’s timber harvesting and hauling industry,” PLC Executive Director Dana Doran, said. “Our members and employers in this industry across the state are looking for cross-trained operators who can efficiently haul timber, haul equipment, and operate the equipment needed to harvest wood, and this program offers the best comprehensive preparation for the industry available in the country today.”
The program is administered by Northern Maine Community College (NMCC) and includes a strong emphasis on safety as well as giving students an understanding of the variables of timber growth, tree species, and markets. Students pay no tuition or fees, and the program provides all personal protective equipment (PPE) and scholarships from Skowhegan Savings to assist with living expenses.
Timothy Crowley, President of NMCC, said partnerships between Maine’s community college system, the PLC, Maine legislators, industry supporters, and Maine Quality Centers, to name a few, have been key to the program’s success.
“Partnerships can be difficult and can be challenging, but it’s how we’re going to move forward and it’s how’s we’re going to continue to develop the workforce in Maine,” Crowley said.
Dan Belyea, Chief Workforce Development Officer for Maine’s Community College System, thanked the PLC and NMCC for their efforts in operating the successful program, and applauded the students for completing its rigorous requirements.
“On behalf of the Maine Community College System and our Board of Trustees congratulations, this is a big deal and a real accomplishment, and we are here to celebrate with you.” Belyea said. “This is the biggest group we’ve ever had at one of these celebrations and that means and lot and it says a lot.”
This year as in past years, the majority of students already have jobs waiting for them after graduation, and the addition of trucking to the program is welcomed by Maine’s logging industry, where demand for both drivers and logging operators exceeds supply.
Since the program began there have been nearly 100 graduates, and 60 percent are still working in the industry. In 2024 the program is expected to begin in April and run twice in the central Maine region.
Although consistently ranked as one of the most satisfying careers in the United States, logging is a challenging and demanding profession, and in Maine and elsewhere aging of the workforce and the costs of training new operators are threats to its future, making programs like MLOFT critical to meeting workforce demands.
In the Northeast, logging provides rural jobs and revenue for local and state governments as well as state and national forests. In Maine alone, the industry contributed an estimated $582 million to the state economy in 2021.
Founded in Maine in 1995 by a handful of loggers who were concerned about the future of the logging and forest trucking industry, the PLC has grown steadily to become a regional trade association which provides independent logging contractors and truckers in the Northeast a voice in the rapidly changing forest products industry. Board membership consists of only loggers, making it an organization that is run by loggers on behalf of loggers.
Operators in demand
Approximately 95 percent of logging in Maine now relies on mechanized equipment including feller bunchers and harvesters, delimbers, grapple skidders, and forwarders. Most operators of this equipment are now at or near retirement age. Job prospects for new operators are strong.
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