MAINE, USA — There's a significant shortage of heavy equipment operators in a number of industries, including logging. But, Northern Maine Community College's Mechanized Logging Operations Program is continuing to prepare students for this career path.
Now in it's sixth year, it's the only program in New England offering this type of training. The program is made possible in collaboration with the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.
Each summer, as many as 15 students are selected to be part of the program. The 12-week course starts in the classroom before students head into the woods for the hands-on work.
Donald Burr is the program coordinator and lead instructor for the program.
"We have six pieces of equipment and every student gets to run each piece of equipment for just over a week... we have a feller buncher, we have a stroke delimer, and a grapple skidder, and then we have a cut-to-length processor, a forwarder, and a crane with slasher," Burr said. "So when they leave us, they get excited possibly for one piece or two pieces that they know they want to go run."
The program has been free to students each year through funding from the Harold Alfond Center for the Advancement of Maine's Workforce. This year, the program is covered through the Maine Jobs and Recovery and Plan. Each student also received a $2,000 stipend to cover any housing and transportation costs while taking the course, thanks to a donation from Skowhegan Savings Bank.
Burr said he and the other instructors have contractors constantly reaching out to them looking for more workers.
"There is some concern that with the workforce that we have, we can't cut enough fiber to supply the mills," Burr said.
Hudson Osgood is one of the students currently participating in the program.
"This is probably one of the best times to get in to this industry," Osgood said.
Burr said starting salaries in the mechanized logging industry range anywhere from $40,000-$70,000.
The program wraps up on Sept. 15 with a graduation ceremony held in Passadumkeag.