STRATTON – Fifteen students have begun classes in the Mechanized Logging Operations Program (MLOP), which launched its latest three-month hands-on training course June 24 in the woods of Western Maine.
Students enrolled in the community college training program will spend the summer harvesting timber using sophisticated state-of-the-art machines like those they will encounter in the logging industry. The hands-on experience students gain operating equipment is something unavailable anywhere else in Maine and neighboring states.
This summer’s class will be the third since the program launched in 2017. Graduation for the class will be held on Sept. 19.
The Mechanized Logging Operations Program was created thanks to a partnership between three Maine community colleges, the PLC, and industry partners including Milton CAT and Nortrax.
“This program provides a direct pathway to a good-paying, exciting career in the Maine woods at a time when there is huge demand for new workers,” Dana Doran, Executive Director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine (PLC), said. “There is literally no better or more efficient way to gain the experience and knowledge you need to become an equipment operator in the logging industry.”
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.
Students who are accepted into the program pay no tuition due to funding provided by Maine Quality Centers and a Put ME to Work grant. Students are responsible for transportation, housing, and food costs; however, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is provided by the program.
A 2014 study by the PLC found the average annual salary for workers employed by logging firms in Maine was $42,795. Mechanized logging operators are among the highest paid members of the logging workforce, and demand for these workers has risen as many current operators have reached retirement age.
Anyone with an interest in the program should contact Leah Buck at Northern Maine Community College at 207-768-2768. Information may also be found online at https://www.nmcc.edu/industry-customized- training/mechanized-forest-operations/
While the logging industry has seen some contraction in recent years due to the loss of pulp and paper mills, the demand for skilled operators of the feller bunchers, harvesters, grapple skidders, forwarders, delimbers, and other mechanized logging equipment that now harvests 95 percent of all timber in Maine is strong and getting stronger. Many current operators are reaching retirement age and the steep costs of training new operators is driving up demand and wages.
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 was jointly developed by the PLC and Northern Maine Community College (NMCC), Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC), and Washington County Community College (WCCC) with generous support from Milton CAT, Nortrax Inc./John Deere, and other industry partners.
The program is working in tandem with the state’s Career Technical Education (CTE) 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 are being trained similarly to other advanced trade occupations with a high school and postsecondary approach.
The program has been supported since its inception through Maine Quality Centers, a program to develop and support skilled in-demand and high wage occupations in Maine.
A promotional video for MLOP developed by the PLC gives potential students a good look at the opportunities afforded by the program and the logging industry.
The video was developed thanks to support from Farm Credit East. It is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eI5YwXiM6Gg
The PLC is encouraging high schools, career centers, and other organizations with connections to potential students to share the video. For those needing a version suitable for projection purposes, a high-resolution version is available for viewing or download at https://www.dropbox.com/s/calbnfl8y9rw2i5/PLC_MLOP_CUT%20VIII%20_MASTER_HQ.mov?dl=0.