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24 The shift away from cable skidders and chainsaws that began in Maine in the 1980s is now fully entrenched in the states logging industry and most companies that are surviving in the current market depend on the speed ef- ficiency and volume of mechanized logging to remain competitive. This shift has brought with it a need for advanced training for operators of the complex harvesters forwarders delimbers and grapple skidders that are in use in the Maine woods today and as the first generation of operators are now begin- ning to reach retirement age and more companies switch to mechanized log- ging new operators are in high demand. The employment opportunities in the Maine logging industry today are ex- cellent for those with the skills and training to operate mechanized forestry equipment. These are high-paying jobs with benefits and even in the current downturn in the forest products industry the demand for these positions is still high Dana Doran Executive Director of the Professional Logging Con- tractors PLC of Maine the trade association representing Maines profes- sional loggers said. While jobs for trained operators are abundant the training itself is not many logging companies have invested large sums of money and time in training their own employees in an attempt to meet their own demands. On average it takes a minimum of a 100000 investment in a new recruit between wages benefits repairs and lost production in the first year to provide such training. Today there are only four high school logger training programs left in Maine to offer fundamental logger education. These programs provide a vital intro- duction to the industry but are not equipped to train a fully functional entry level mechanized operator. Loggers like Tony Madden owner of A.W. Mad- den Forest Products of Milford who has been in the industry for decades say the skills needed by loggers keep growing. Todays equipment operators need more training than ever to operate this high-tech computerized logging equipment Madden said. In 2015 the PLC opened discussions with the Maine Community College System and industry partners seeking a solution to the training issue. That jointeffortledtocreationoftheregionsfirstmechanizedloggertrainingpro- gram which is scheduled to being operating this summer in northern Maine and move to new locations around the state each semester. The Mechanized Logging Operations Training Program is being jointly developed by the PLC and Northern Maine Community College NMCC Eastern Maine Community College EMCC and Washington County Community College WCCC with Mechanical Logger Education generous support from Milton CATCAT Forest Products and from Nortrax Inc.John Deere. In addition to more than 3 million in donated equipment andservicesfromNortraxJohnDeereandMiltonCATCATForestProducts the program will also receive generous support from the State of Maine. As a result of this assistance tuition for students who qualify for the program will be free from 2016-18. This new certificate program will be offered on a rotating basis at differ- ent locations throughout northern and eastern Maine including training at EMCC in Bangor WCCC in Calais and NMCC in Presque Isle. The first cohort which will be affiliated with EMCC will begin in July 2016 in Millinocket. The second program will start in November in Presque Isle and the current plan is to run the program three times a year in various locations in central eastern and northern Maine. In classroom and hands on settings students will be taught machine opera- tion and repair maintenance harvesting laws best management practices and safety. Students completing the program will also receive an industry recognized safety certification. At the end of the class the industry will gain a pool of highly trained forest operations technicians able to operate and maintain mechanized harvesting equipment and employ modern logging and GPS software effectively in the Maine woods. The training cannot come soon enough for many logging companies around the state who are anxious to fill current vacancies and also to be prepared to expand if and when demand for wood fiber grows as new markets open up. In 2016 an unseasonably warm winter that idled many logging operations due to mud and lack of snow and a rough six months in the wood market have left many of Maines characteristically optimistic loggers looking to the future and better days ahead. Maine loggers are used to ups and downs and to change and they know new markets for the states abundant wood fiber will emerge for those who invest in the equipment and the training needed to succeed in a global mar- ketplace. This has always been true and it remains true today. This new pro- gram will prepare the next generation of Maine loggers to carry the states 200 year logging tradition forward successfully Doran said. For more information about the new Mechanized Logging Operations Pro- gram contact Leah Buck Assistant Dean of Continuing Education at NMCC at 207 768-2768 or Jonathan Humphrey Communications Coordinator Professional Logging Contractors of Maine The news lately from the Maine logging industry has been discouraging paper mill and biomass plant closures and slowdowns declining demand for wood pellets cutbacks in business and employees. This would lead most people to expect job opportunities in the logging industry are disappearing but in fact exactly the opposite is happening in the case of mechanized logging.