Wood Careers Outlook
The United States has the most competitive and highest- volume wood products industry in the world. There are several reasons for this, including the availability of forests that include some of the top tree-growing land in the world, an efficient transportation and distribution system, a skilled labor force, technological advances in the forestry and lumber industries, and adequate energy and water resources. The United States produces about 25 percent of the world’s wood products and consumes nearly one-third. Approximately 90 percent of the wood products produced in the United States are used in the United States. The remainder is exported for foreign markets. The largest foreign markets for U.S. wood and paper products are Canada, Mexico, the European Union, and Japan.
The entire industry is highly sensitive to economic cycles. When the economy is depressed, people buy less of the things that wood is used to make. The wood industry is linked especially closely to trends in housing construction, repair and remodeling construction, and furniture production. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment in the construction industry will grow by 11 percent through 2014, or slightly slower than the average for all industries.
U.S. Forests Facts & Figures, 2001, published by the American Forest & Paper Association and Clemson University, reports that the long-term outlook for wood exports has been improved by recent international agreements, but short timber supply and increased production from other nations have hindered the United State’s wood industry. The major markets for United States wood products are Canada, Europe, Japan, and Mexico.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook reported approximately 92,000 workers employed in forestry and logging jobs in 2004. Employment for timber cutting, logging, and sawmill workers should decline slightly over the next decade. This is because increased mechanization will lessen the demand for these workers. For example, the increased computerization of the timber industry will lead to a reduction in the number of workers needed to process logs. Computers can now be used to perform such tasks as sorting logs on a conveyor belt and determining the most cost-effective method of cutting them. Furthermore, increasing imports will slow employment growth in this industry.
There is an ongoing controversy between the logging industry and those who want to protect old-growth forests. In the Pacific Northwest and other locations, loggers and environmentalists continue to battle over whether these forests should be harvested. Environmentalists maintain that these forests are an important part of the ecosystem and, as such, provide an important habitat for wildlife and plants. Loggers maintain that local economies will suffer if loggers cannot harvest these trees. The ongoing debate on this issue will likely affect employment in some parts of the wood industry. The wood products market is relying less on standing timber (stumpage) from federal lands and more on private-land stumpage.
The employment of foresters and conservation scientists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Most of this growth will occur in state and local governments, where the demand for environmental protection and responsible land use will create jobs. Employment growth in the federal government will be slower due to budgetary constraints.
The one area of the industry that is expected to grow more quickly than other areas is that of wood science and technology. Because of environmental pressures to maximize the use of and minimize the waste of wood being harvested, specialists in this field are becoming more necessary. In addition, wood products face increasingly stiff competition from plastics and other wood substitutes. Manufacturers need wood science experts to keep their operations profitable, efficient, and competitive.
For More Information:
- American Forest and Paper Association
- North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA)
- Society of American Foresters
- Society of Wood Science and Technology (SWST)
- US Forest Service
- Western Wood Products Association
- Canadian Forestry Association
- Canadian Wood Council
Related Career Field:
- Forestry Technicians
- Furniture Manufacturing Workers
- Logging Industry Workers
- Paper Processing Workers
- Wood Science and Technology Workers