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Training the Timber Trade in Arkansas

 June 08, 2017

The forestry economy is deeply integrated in Arkansas. Every new job in the timber industry creates 2.5 jobs in the state, and forest industries provide jobs in 86 percent of all economic sectors. In the “wood basket” of Arkansas, the forest products industry provides more than 28,000 jobs, with average salaries that are greater than the U.S. average, largely in rural areas. Indirectly, it supports nearly 70,000 jobs statewide and five percent of the state’s economy. 

The future for forestry jobs looks brighter than ever. Arkansas forestry employment rates have been sustained for the past 40 years, and in that time, the amount of standing forest has increased by more than 50 percent – clearly indicating both the sustainability and growth potential for Arkansas’ forest industries. 

High-Technology Takes Over

Forget the 19th or even 20th-century view of the timber industry. While many people think of it as being low-tech, today’s timber industry is quite the opposite. According to Dr. Matt Pelkki, distinguished professor at the University of Arkansas at Monticello School of Forestry & Natural Resources, forestry jobs in logging, sawmills and paper mills now require computer and information technology skills more than ever before for both the operation and maintenance of equipment. As the wood-industry expands into bio-energy, engineered wood products and cellulosic nanotechnology, continued workforce development will be critical. Two-year and associate programs for students and lifelong learning opportunities for the current workforce must be in place to ensure continued growth. Universities in Arkansas will play a leading role in educating at the technical, four-year and graduate levels.

Arkansas is growing timber at an all-time high rate. The industry now requires more skilled labor to keep up with production. There is increasing demand for engineers, electricians, computer programmers, skilled maintenance workers and welders in the forest industry. The challenge is to recruit a younger generation of workers and provide training and experience in the industry, while educating the existing workforce on new technologies. 

UAM School of Forestry & Natural Resources

The University of Arkansas at Monticello’s (UAM) Forestry & Natural Resources program is the only university in the country where people can receive training in all levels of forestry education – two-year, baccalaureate and master’s. The program has the advantage of improving the forestry workforce in a systematic and progressive way. The school works with the timber industry to identify training needs for both the existing workforce and new hires. They are then able to provide those workers the necessary training they need so they can step into the workforce and be productive immediately.  

UAM has partnered with timber companies to train workers for the new technology of the 21st century. Georgia-Pacific, the largest employer in Ashley County, partnered with the University of Monticello College of Technology-Crossett on a program to train highly skilled manufacturing workers. Students in the five-semester program take courses at the college that count toward an Associate of Applied Science degree while working 24 hours a week at the Georgia Pacific paper mill in Crossett – giving them opportunities to receive training for future jobs while they are obtaining a high-level technical education and gaining practical work experience. Georgia Pacific committed $150,000 over a two-year period to the program, covering student tuition, fees, books and supplies, while paying students an hourly rate for work performed at the mill. The school also has begun a training program with Sun Paper, and its proposed new fiber mill in Arkadelphia. 

To keep up with the demand of a highly skilled workforce in the timber industry, it takes everyone working together. Forestry companies will rely on forest resource centers and academic institutions to train workers for a new age of forestry jobs.

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