Old Town Elementary third-graders at NELA Logging Expo in Bangor
Written by: Gavriela Mallory
Investment in green workforce development in Maine is growing. As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, there is an increasing need for young adults across natural resource industries. In the forestry sector, in particular, 37% of the 2020 workforce will have reached or surpassed retirement age by 20351. There are an abundance of well-worn boots that need filling.
On a global scale, as climate change rapidly shifts systems and economies, Maine’s heritage industries are well positioned to integrate generations-built wisdom and new technologies to serve the 21st century2. Innovation and growing applications are creating new roles in natural resource industries, from wood composite engineers to mountain bike trail builders.
Luckily, when it comes to green jobs, youth are interested! Research shows that rural youth in Maine have a strong attachment to the natural world3. Having grown up immersed in narratives about the need to steward natural resources well and give back to their communities, Maine’s young people are excited to find their place in the out-of-doors.
Maine Timber Research and Environmental Education Foundation (Maine TREE) is taking a multi-pronged approach to facilitating green jobs exposure and empowerment for Maine’s students. Through job fairs, direct classroom engagement, and bringing students to the field, Maine TREE, and partner organizations promote the natural resource workforce development Maine needs.
Job fairs are an age-old tool to expose students to opportunities in the workforce. Maine TREE travels the state to attend traditional job fairs, setting up a table where students can complete Project Learning Tree’s Find Your Green Job Quiz, a set of questions that assess students’ interests and temperament to recommend a personalized green job fit. Through traditional job fairs, Maine TREE staff interact with a broad population of Maine’s students, planting the seeds of ideas for future training and employment opportunities.
This May, Maine TREE worked with the Piscataquis Environmental Education Collaborative, a collaboration between Rural Aspirations, Appalachian Mountain Club, Natural Resource Education Center, and Piscataquis Soil & Water Conservation District, to organize and pilot a reimagined job fair experience. The 2023 Green Jobs Fair hosted middle school students from Piscataquis Community Elementary School and SeDoMoCha Middle School for a day at Law Farm with representatives from various local natural resource sector employers. “Instead of a typical job fair where students are introduced to professions through displays and pamphlets, students were able to participate in hands-on explorations of portions of each career,” explained Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District Educational Coordinator Kacey Weber. “They were introduced to logging through the cab of a forwarder and the game warden profession through volunteering to get ‘lost’ and being found by the warden and their K-9 partner.”
Steph Perkins, Piscataquis County Youth Education Coordinator, reflected on the event’s impact, saying, “The Green Job Event was a meaningful way to connect youth in Piscataquis County to the region’s unique natural resources and career opportunities. Through hands-on activities, students were able to experience natural resource-based professions and develop a better understanding of the natural world so that they will want to protect it now and in the future.”
Bringing Green Jobs to the Classroom
While Maine TREE specializes in providing teachers with the tools, connections, and professional development necessary to incorporate green jobs into classroom curricula, staff occasionally have the opportunity to visit classrooms to work with students directly. This spring, Maine TREE staff visited six seventh-grade classrooms in Portland and three first-grade classrooms in Old Town to share games and stories about forest management and the people who tend to Maine’s extensive woods.
A Maine TREE partner organization, Rural Aspirations, holds expertise in implementing programming to connect rural Maine students with opportunities within their communities, including green job opportunities. This spring marked the close of the fifth year of one of Rural Aspiration’s core programs, the Maine Forest Collaborative. Eight high schools worked through a design process to identify and solve challenges during the 2022-23 school year to contribute to their forest-placed communities. Students and teachers were connected with relevant local experts in green careers to help them understand their challenges and troubleshoot their solution prototypes. Through this year’s Maine Forest Collaborative program, students contributed to the restoration of a local waterfront, developed a community mountain bike park, and planted school gardens.
Sara King, the Maine Forest Collaborative Program Coordinator, shared about the program: “The students appreciated the opportunity to learn outside of a traditional classroom and recognized the work readiness skills they were developing, like communication, interpersonal relations, leadership, and problem-solving. During a reflection at the final presentation event, students expressed that this project taught them time management, focus, responsibility, accountability, and the importance of planning. One student said, ‘It was a very beneficial class. It means being an involved member in your community’, another said, ‘You feel a part of something good, something that can possibly help people.’ Students were proud of their accomplishments and projects, and many reported that presenting in front of an audience was a highlight!”
Bringing Students to Industry
Maine’s vibrant forest economy provides ample opportunities to bring students to the field to see green jobs in action. Maine TREE partnered with the Northeastern Loggers Association (NELA) in early May to bring 130 Old Town Elementary School third-graders to NELA’s annual Logging Expo in Bangor. Students spent the morning walking the floor in small groups with a teacher and a forestry professional. They saw demonstrations and learned how loggers employ various equipment in harvest operations. After a pizza lunch, students engaged in a high-energy Question and Answer session with ten NELA member volunteers.
“I’m amazed that people can do so many skills with heavy machinery,” one third-grader shared, “I enjoyed meeting all of the loggers and learning about how trees are harvested.” Her teacher, Old Town Elementary’s Renee St. Peter, was similarly enthusiastic about the experience, “Our town in the late 1800s was the Lumber capital of the World, so when Maine TREE and the Loggers’ Association approached us…we jumped at the opportunity! …[The students] enjoyed talking to the logging professionals and learning about their equipment. As one student said, ‘It was the BEST field trip ever!’”
Later in May, Maine TREE partnered with NEXTStep, a collaboration between Tree Street Youth and Lewiston Public Schools to bring a group of high school students to see a “Roots to Retail” demonstration at Higmo’s Inc. Higmo’s staff demonstrated how 1’ by 4’ construction boards come to be: from felling through milling, all on their site in Brunswick.
NEXTStep instructor Noelle Auger reflected on the experience, “One of our core values at NEXTStep is to immerse kids in novel experiences, especially ones that involve our local communities. Many of the students on this trip had never experienced a lumber mill like this. It was really eye-opening and valuable for them to see the process of trees being turned into lumber, and many expressed interest in learning more about the field and forest work in general. We are super grateful to have made connections with both Higmo’s and Maine TREE so we can continue to introduce students to empowering and impactful jobs right here in Maine.”
Reflecting on a busy spring, Maine TREE’s Director of Education, Lena Ives is full of hope for the future, “The need for green workforce development in Maine is pressing, but students are ready and eager. Watching their excitement grow through these events and opportunities is such a joy.”
Looking forward to summer 2023, Forests of Maine Teachers’ Tours are quickly approaching. This year, tours will travel to the Downeast and Katahdin regions, providing teachers with 30+ hours of professional development on incorporating forestry and the out-of-doors into their classroom curricula and connecting students directly with green jobs training, opportunities, and exposure. Maine TREE also continues to grow its Forest Ecology Research Network, a series of school-associated 1/10th acre research plots where students can learn about forestry, data collection, and climate change through hands-on experience in the woods. Professional development training for interested teachers and forestry professionals will be offered in August.
Are you interested in getting involved in natural resource workforce development in Maine? Contact Maine TREE’s Director of Education, Lena Ives, by emailing email@example.com.
Funding for Maine TREE Foundation’s workforce development and green jobs initiatives is generously provided by Maine Timberlands Charitable Trust, Onion Foundation, and Farm Credit East Northeast AgEnhancement.
1. Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. (2019). Maine Economic Development Strategy 2020-2029: A Focus on Talent and Innovation. https://www.maine.gov/decd/sites/maine.gov.decd/files/inline-files/DECD_120919_sm.pdf
2. Center for Business and Economic Research, University of Southern Maine. (2021). The Forest Opportunity Roadmap for Maine Workforce Development Strategy Prepared for Forest Opportunity Roadmap for Maine (FOR/Maine) https://formaine.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/FORMaine-Workforce-Report-Final_Revised_06.2021.pdf
3. Bernsen, N.R., Crandall, M.S., Leahy, J.E., Abrams, J.B., & Colocousis, C.R. (2021). Do rural youth want to stay rural? Influences on residential aspirations of youth in forest-located communities. Community Development, 53(5), 566-584. 10.1080/15575330.2021.1998170