Women in Forestry
Finding the next generation of sawfilers: A sawfiler’s guide
By Jaqualynn Gray
By Jaqualynn Gray
Saw filing is quickly becoming a dying art due to retirement and lack of fresh young blood, so to speak. Not only is the saw filing population primarily male, but most of these men are nearing retirement age. It’s time we take steps to get younger men and women involved in this specialized field in the sawmill industry.
In 2016, approximately one third of the workers in manufacturing in the U.S. were reported as female. With this many women in the manufacturing industry as a whole, the absence of females in maintenance and precision-oriented positions, such as saw filing, is astounding. If we, in the lumber industry, focus on being inclusive, have set training programs, and become more transparent about what the job entails, we can change this. Actively recruiting female employees to the sawfiler and maintenance shops will open doors that, perhaps, they haven’t thought about before. Small changes made by companies and mills now can lead to a big change in the tide of young workers of all genders.
A simple change that should happen, and can happen quickly, is making saw filing more inclusive of women. In my case, being a female sawfiler was a bit of a novelty, and I found the mill was lacking the basic need of a female bathroom. Designating bathrooms for each gender and ensuring they are all kept clean is a small and cost-effective change that can be made quickly and easily. This ensures your employees feel cared for and shows women that they have a place in the industry.
Designated breakrooms for filers that are separate from their workspace is another way to make sure that your people, both old and new, feel respected. Putting effort into a clean, well-kept, and thought-out break area will attract and keep employees. Employees feel more valued when the areas they need for basic daily personal tasks are provided.
Structured training programs that begin from Day 1 on the job can help set firm expectations and show new employees their paths for promotion. Building a program that encourages new skills and is a constant evolution of previous skills can make a world of difference for the young employees.
Cross training within the mill can also be a benefit by allowing employees, who may not have considered other career paths, to see if another job there better suits them. This can also allow supervisors to give new and young employees a chance to explore different trades within the mill and give them goals to work towards.
Industry gatherings, such as trade shows and mill tours, are also an invaluable tool for sharing knowledge. These types of get-togethers also create a sense of community that promotes loyalty and encourages problem solving as a team.
An additional way to create interest and recruit young employees of all genders is to create exposure and transparency with the job. Many young people do not know what saw filing is or what the job entails. Partnering with local trade schools for internships can expand the field of higher qualified applicants. Bringing sawfiling trade schools back and bringing technology into our shops will spark excitement.
Filing rooms often find a product or equipment they prefer and never evolve past it. But setting that habit aside and embracing new technology can make all the difference. Not only will using current technology ensure females feel confident they can do the task, but it will also reduce injuries for all workers by reducing back and strain injuries. New technology in the file rooms will promote productivity and unique skill sets for the next generation.
In conclusion, creating inclusive workspaces, building solid training programs, and creating transparency in the job will bring in the newer generation of saw filers. Embracing the changes of today’s world and building new resources for our workforce will benefit filers, young and old. Providing education, expounding on skills, and building a solid foundation for a long career are key elements to welcoming in a new age.
The article is part of our 2020 #FileWeek coverage. Read more here.
Jaqualynn Gray is an EHS supervisor at West Fraser’s lumber mill in Augusta, Ga. Previously, she was a sawfiler and relief operator in the sawmill.