UMaine industry liaison testifies to Congress about preparing future forest workforce

The University of Maine’s liaison to the forest products industry testified before Congress on Wednesday about university-led programs and partnerships to develop the workforce and innovations necessary to maintain Maine’s leading role in the global forest economy and support rural jobs and opportunity. 

Shane O’Neill, the forestry industry business development manager at UMaine, was a witness for the U.S. House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee as part of a hearing on supporting careers in conservation. His testimony is here and the hearing can be viewed here.

O’Neill explained how changing markets and climate, and advances in science, engineering and technology have led to new ways to manage our forests and add value to its products, but require an increasingly educated workforce. 

“Accelerating innovation in forest products and training a skilled workforce that meets the current and emerging needs of these new products and practices is key to meeting the increasing global demand for low-carbon materials, chemicals and fuels that can come from forests,” O’Neill testified. 

Maine’s own Rep. Chellie Pingree serves on the subcommittee and participated in the hearing. 

She lauded the FOR/Maine initiative that includes UMaine and industry, community, government and other partners for working together since 2016 to reposition the state’s forest economy, and a recent workforce analysis prepared for FOR/Maine by O’Neill and colleagues from UMaine and the University of Southern Maine. That analysis projected 7,600 positions in the sector would open over the next 15 years, and recommended specific strategies to meet that employer demand including an education and awareness campaign showcasing career opportunities in the modern forest economy, outreach to middle and high school students leveraging the younger generation’s interest in sustainability, and attracting those seeking to relocate after military service.

“With extensive expertise, broad relationships, statewide reach, and research and development capacity across the forest economy and beyond, the R1 University of Maine is critical to this collaboration, providing knowledge-based information and innovations to deliver on FOR/Maine’s strategic objectives. And, as the largest  generator of graduates in the state, we can most impact the size and skill of the workforce for this sector,” O’Neill also told the subcommittee. 

“Our work, and the workforce we are developing, has never been more essential to Maine and our nation’s ability to sustainably manage and utilize our forest resources, mitigate forest fire and invasive risks, sequester carbon, improve clean air, water, and habitat, and protect the economic foundation and identity of many rural communities.”

Contact: Ashley Forbes,