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Forest Industry Workforce: A Critical Component for a Climate Conscious Economy

January 25, 2022
Author: Eric Kingsley

In December, I presented to the Forest Resource Association’s Northeast Region on challenges the forest industry (and let’s be honest – everyone else) faces in finding, recruiting, and retaining their workforce. In researching this topic, there was no shortage of challenges identified – the Great Resignation, population shifts away from rural areas, and an aging forest industry workforce don’t provide much optimism.

That’s the bad news. But there is good news – if you look for it. I reviewed the findings of a survey of over 100 CEOs conducted by Fortune / Deloitte in the Fall of 2021 and found lots of reason for optimism. Reading what business leaders from across a range of sectors – technology, professional services, health care, manufacturing, and more – have to say about challenges and opportunities suggests that the forest industry is well-positioned to successfully recruit and retain employees that contribute to a robust, dynamic, and growing industry.

Corporate CEOs were asked what they are doing to attract and retain talent, and some of it is what you might expect – adding flexibility, scheduling, increasing pay, and providing more time off. While these may or may not work for particular forest industries, there isn’t anything here where we have a unique advantage. However, over two-thirds of CEOs said an “increased emphasis on corporate purpose,” and I can’t think of a better opportunity for the forest industry to differentiate ourselves.

The forest industry – from the woods to the mill – provides a unique combination of environmental stewardship, support for rural economies, and the production of a wide range of products that meet society’s needs. We are taking what nature provides and responsibly producing products that impact almost every segment of our lives. It’s a nearly unique position and provides the entire forest industry supply chain an opportunity to focus on and communicate our story. We are proud of what we do – rightfully so – and communicating this to existing and potential employees can help position the forest industry for continued success.

The CEO survey also asked about the role of companies in addressing climate change. As the father of two college-age kids, I can assure you this is a critical question that the next generation of workers will be asking as they look at career options in the coming years. Again, the forest industry has a real opportunity to shine here. Growing forests sequester carbon, and across the country private timberland has been removing carbon from the atmosphere. Much of this is turned into long-lived products – houses, furniture, books – and spends decades or centuries removed from the atmosphere. Forests are one of our country’s – and the world’s – greatest opportunities to mitigate climate change, and the forest industry has a critical role to play in keeping forests as forests, providing a range of environmental benefits.

Eighty-five percent of CEOs surveyed indicate that “executing on our climate agenda will positively affect our ability to attract, retain, and engage our workforce.” This provides the forest industry the opportunity to tell our story, differentiate ourselves, and attract the best talent for addressing the future.

Is finding and retaining a workforce a challenge for the forest industry? Yes, of course it is, as it is for all industries across the country. However, we have unique advantages and opportunities to tell our story and find those workers that want to not only make a career but also make a difference. Let’s build upon this advantage and position the forest industry for continued growth.

Eric Kingsley is Vice President of Innovative Natural Resource Solutions, LLC. With a diverse professional background, Mr. Kingsley has been the Executive Director for a 1500 member forestry trade association, has represented organizations in both lobbying, legislative and development capacities, and has supported state and federal agencies with disaster relief funding for the forest industry.

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