Forest Industry Workforce Initiative

WEDC Workforce Innovation Grant

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Gov. Tony Evers and WEDC Secretary Missy Hughes announced the grant award to the Wisconsin Forestry Center in June 2022.

The Wisconsin Forestry Center (WFC) at UW-Stevens Point has launched the Forest Industry Workforce Recruitment and Development Initiative to address the urgent need for skilled workers in the forestry industry. With support from an $8 million state Workforce Innovation Grant and in collaboration with industry partners, the WFC will establish a forestry education and career pathway program. 

The Forest Industry Workforce Recruitment and Development Initiative will: 

  • Introduce forestry and its career opportunities early in the education cycle.
  • Expand existing high school forestry education with a certified skill development curriculum for workforce entry.
  • Provide affordable, short-duration, post-high school training programs leading to stable, well-paying jobs.
  • Build career development pathways via credit-eligible certificate programs.

Initiative Need

For Northwoods residents, their livelihood depends on the region’s vast forests. The logging and forest products sector is among the top 10 employers in 31 counties in Wisconsin and No. 1 in 10 counties. This natural resource requires sustainable management by trained professionals. 

The region’s aging workforce and declining populations have resulted in significant workforce shortages and skill gaps, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic. Based on surveys and industry reports, employers in all forestry sectors have an urgent need for skilled workers, particularly entry-level employees. The Forest Industry Workforce Recruitment and Development Initiative will educate students and train workers for a forestry career pathway with growth potential.

The initiative’s three focus areas are: 

Forestry Awareness

The WFC will work toward increasing forestry awareness, knowledge, and skills among students and the public through curriculum expansion in the classroom and mobile education units at public events. The curriculum, developed by LEAF, Wisconsin’s K-12 Forestry Education Program, will be incorporated into additional schools and grades. 

Forestry on the Road (FORward) mobile education units will be outfitted with timber harvester simulators and portable sawmills, providing hands-on exploration and skill development at public events, teachers’ conferences, and school forests. 

Applied High School Forestry Curriculum

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In addition to K-10 education expansion, an applied high school forestry curriculum will be developed, and the WFC will provide teacher training. The curriculum will be offered in Antigo, Menominee Indian, Merrill, Rhinelander, and Tomahawk high schools, expanding to additional districts later. High schools can build on their classroom learning through a one-week Skills Camp training program at a new grant-funded Forestry Advancement Center outdoor classroom at Treehaven, the UW-Stevens Point field station in Tomahawk, Wis.

Students will be able to move directly into the workforce, gain further experience through an immersion training program, or transition to a technical college or UW-Stevens Point with pre-earned credit.

Immersion Training Programs

_DSC3297.jpgPost-high school immersion training programs will be developed and made available through regional training hubs, leading to stable, well-paying jobs. The low-cost training programs will educate participants on state-of-the-art technology used in the forest industry to provide quick entry to jobs. Two programs will be developed: 

Forest Operations: A 240-hour program based at Treehaven, the Forest Operations immersion training program will cover eight industry-identified skills to prepare people for forestry equipment operation/mechanic jobs. Participants can earn a UW-Stevens Point certificate upon completion, industry-recognized certificates, and credits that will transfer to technical schools and UW-Stevens Point. 

Mill Technology: This 200-hour program will cover seven industry-identified skills to prepare employees for cutting-edge sawmill maintenance and operation jobs. It will use the Midwest’s only primary-to-secondary wood manufacturing training center: the Wood Technology Center for Excellence at Northcentral Technical College (NTC) in Antigo, Wis. Participants will learn to use the latest milling technologies to turn logs into dimensional lumber for making trim, cabinets, and other products. Upon completion, participants will earn a certificate and credits toward degree programs at NTC and UW-Stevens Point.

Grant Partners

This initiative would not be possible without a broad-based coalition of partners. They include: 

Regional Economic Development Partners:

Educational Partners: 

High School Partners: 

Equipment Manufacturer Partners:

Industry Partners:

State Agency Partners:

Professional Organization Partners: