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High tech needs more than high school

Jobs in southern Oregon lumber mills go increasingly to people with college degrees, a change in a region where young people used to make a good living in the timber business right out of high school. Source: The Chron

Executives at southern Oregon wood-products companies say the changing workforce presents challenges for recruiters.

Some jobs require engineering backgrounds, especially in electronics. They said they look for employees to program computers that in turn direct machines, saws and robots to turn logs into wood products.

“You can’t grow a mill unless you have technical people,” said Chuck Wert, chief operating officer for Swanson Group.

“When those positions open, we do recruit college graduates. It’s very hard to grow if you don’t have qualified employees or a workforce that wants to work.”

Swanson has 800 employees.

Wert said the mill doesn’t see many local high school juniors and seniors identifying mill work as a career anymore. Those young people seem to be moving out and trying other professions, he said.

Some return, realizing that the pay and benefits of mill jobs compare favorably to other jobs, he said.

Wert and Jon McAmis, director of human resources for Roseburg Forest Products, said that recruiting people with high-tech talent can be tough in a region that doesn’t have urban amenities attractive to a prospective employee or spouse of one.

“In recruiting, we let people know about the hunting, fishing, hiking and biking that are available here,” said McAmis, a Douglas High School graduate who went to college and returned.

“We tell them there’s no better place to do those activities than here in Douglas County. We speak of the community, the pace of life, the natural beauty.”

Roseburg Forest Products has 1850 workers in Douglas County.