Renewing Our Workforce to Regenerate Our Industry

Originally in the May BPD and Merchant Magazines.

By Scott Parker, Executive Director, North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA)

The forest products industry is just one of many that is struggling to recruit, engage and retain the talent its companies need to achieve continued growth and success.

Before the current global health situation disrupted many work environments, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Data reported that the mining and logging, wholesale and retail trade and manufacturing industry sectors were among the ones with the greatest labor shortages, with more open jobs than people seeking work.

Unfortunately, the forest products industry continues to face perceptions that it is antiquated, environmentally unfriendly and lacking in diversity. It is rare that young professionals enter into it without prior knowledge of the industry through their schooling, family or colleague connections. To ensure today’s employers are able to secure the right talent to advance their firms, a new approach must be employed.

In a national survey last summer of college students (undergraduate and graduate) commissioned by NAWLA, we sought to better understand the reasons behind these misconceptions so that the association and its members could collaborate to more effectively overcome them.

This survey asked – both at the start and the end – if the participants would be interested in a career in the woods products industry. During the survey, those same respondents were shown a series of statements about the breadth of lucrative and fulfilling careers, and the opportunities to develop life-long relationships with diverse and passionate practitioners. With some brief introductory information, we were able to increase those indicating “yes” to interest in a career in the wood products industry from 9% at the start of the survey to 21% at the end of it. After completing the survey, another 70% indicated “maybe” to the same question.

One respondent said, “I haven’t really considered the wood industry before mainly because I have always thought of it as an older industry or something from the past. However, upon looking over that information I do have to recognize that wood is still a large part of our society and serves a large function. It is also possible that the wood industry could provide fulfilling work.”

This promising data leads us to believe that, with a concerted educational outreach effort employing a number of tactics to reach job seekers or those soon entering the labor market, we could easily improve perception and drive students to investigate career opportunities in the forest products industry.

For several years, NAWLA has supported the Forever Forest Initiative, a national traveling exhibit that explores how people use the forest to live, work and play in harmony. Families who visit the exhibit can learn about sustainability, selective harvesting and everyday products made from trees. Since 2017, more than 400,000 people had already toured the exhibit. NAWLA is proud to work with other industry leaders to educate younger children about forestry so that they do not develop the perceptions we are challenged with by the time many people reach adulthood. Now NAWLA will be expanding the scope of our efforts to reach high school and college students.

This spring, NAWLA will be launching a website ( and marketing campaign – Many branches. One industry. – to educate and inspire young job seekers to include the lumber industry in their career search. This campaign will include advertising and educational content on new digital platforms, collaboration with educators and employers and career fair participation.

The most valuable asset of this website and campaign is the job board, where all of the available jobs in our diverse industry will listed for potential applicants. We’ll be featuring job listings that many young job seekers may not consider as part of the wood products industry, including jobs in accounting, engineering, chemistry, IT, architecture, material design, furnishings, aviation, automotive and other novel job types. The website also features educational videos, “how I got here” stories from NAWLA members about their path to a lumber industry job and other related articles showcasing technology and innovation within the industry.

When the campaign launches to job seekers, we want to make sure any available positions at forest products industry companies are listed. We’ll be featuring some of the more unexpected jobs to gain attention before the brief attention span of most job seekers evaporates.

For the remainder of 2020, NAWLA members will receive an unlimited number of basic postings on the job board, and non-members can post for a nominal fee. By creating this central hub of industry job postings, you are not only filling vacancies at your firms with open-minded young professionals, you are helping to support efforts to do so across the industry.

With those job posts, you are encouraged to add to each listing that your post is NAWLA approved. You can also help ensure the success of this campaign by following Many branches. One industry on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, and encouraging others to do the same.

In the coming weeks and months, NAWLA will also be providing Many branches. One industry “campaign in a box” materials industry firms can use at upcoming tradeshows to help us spread the word and exponentially increase the reach of our campaign. Featuring brochures and leave-behind materials, this kit makes it easy for you to dispel common misconceptions about careers in the forest products industry and connect with those who are unfamiliar with the critical role your company plays in our economy and the world we live in.

For educators at high schools and similar education institutions, NAWLA will provide a Many branches. One industry education packet to help create interest and excitement about this industry in students. Teaching aids like handouts, worksheets and PowerPoint presentations, and a student workbook will contain information and guidance on industry careers, and encourage teachers to talk about sustainability. Materials for campuses and career centers that reinforce this packet will be provided as well.

At NAWLA, we know and have long asserted that ours is an industry that offers a diverse pool of lucrative and rewarding careers, the opportunity to leverage technological advances and countless chances to establish a network that supports you your entire career. We are confident that those who hear that message through the Many branches. One industry campaign will open their mind to the possibilities that await them at one of our industry firms.

 To learn more about the Many branches. One industry campaign or post a job, visit

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