Article by Jari Mennala
Director, John Deere Forestry Sales & Marketing
U.S., Canada, and Latin America

Loggers face difficult challenges at every turn. From mill quotas to fuel costs and other business expenses, it is vital for logging operations to be efficient to ensure that they can meet demands and keep cash flowing. However, one of the toughest obstacles loggers face worldwide is recruiting and retaining quality employees. Due to increases in environmental and productivity demands, it is vital to have a skilled and competent workforce.

As much of the logging population continues to age, it is more important than ever that loggers take the necessary steps to recruit, cultivate and retain high-quality employees, particularly since there is a lack of younger people entering the industry. While human resources may seem simple, this is a complex role. However, loggers can still create a robust program that can help them get a leg up in the battle of finding and retaining the right employees.

Employee recruitment can be a difficult challenge for loggers. It is important for you to cultivate employees, starting in high school. Become an active part of your community, helping to garner interest in logging from young people. Because logging is an “invisible business,” many people do not understand what it is. Education is key to helping recruit new employees.

Once new employees are hired, it is important to set standards from day one. It is vital for your company to have an employee handbook that lists expectations, including drug policies, paid time off, holidays and benefits. This handbook provides employees with a clear guide for how they should act as an employee, and gives the employer a standard that they can hold employees to. As a manager, it is important to go over the handbook with employees on their first day.

The logging industry is highly competitive, with employees often moving from company to company to find something better, whether it be the environment, pay or workload, as well as many other reasons. It is key to find and retain good employees, and one way to do this is to keep your employees motivated. Help to create a career path for your employees. It is your responsibility to help outline their career goals, and be a resource as they work to achieve them. Not only will it give your employees motivation, but it will help you promote from within, ensuring your staff is familiar with the company and invested in its success.

Provide feedback to employees, helping outline steps they need to take to move towards their goals. Employee performance reviews are crucial to helping employees grow and ensuring their long-term happiness with the company. Learn more about what drives your employees and what they are interested in pursuing. This enables you to understand what makes them tick, and strengthens the relationship between employer and employee.

Invest in your employees. Offer training courses to employees that are interested in another aspect of the business, like supervising or timber buying, allowing them to explore their options and gain new skills. Not only will this help your employees grow, but you’ll also have flexibility of a staff that is trained in a variety of skills, allowing your business to be more adaptable. As loggers continue to be squeezed and asked to do more with less, this will give you a leg up on the competition.

As you continue to cultivate these high-quality employees, it is important to make sure they are being fairly compensated for their position. However, you need to look beyond hourly wages. While the company down the road may be able to offer 25 cents more an hour, if you are providing invaluable benefits, including vacation and health insurance, you are able to offer a competitive package to your employees. These benefits can often be more valuable than money.

Overall, it is important for you to be in touch with employees. Make sure you are opening the lines of communication. Not only should you be aware of what pain points your staff experiences, but also listen to their suggestions for improving the way your business operates on a daily basis. A key part of human resources is creating a dialogue with employees and helping to manage the relationship between the business and em­ployees. Open communication will strengthen your relationship with your employees, increasing loyalty and helping to improve retention. You will be able to identify concerns, among them stress, equipment issues, etc., and fix things before they become a larger issue.

It is becoming more and more important for you to wear several hats, and as the logging industry continues to evolve, employee recruitment and retention will prove to be an invaluable skill to help elevate companies over the competition. High-quality employees are trusted, allowing you to focus on growing your business instead of micro-managing the day-to-day work. Make recruitment a key part of your business, and when you find quality employees, take the necessary steps to make sure they stay with your business for the long haul.