Wood Business

Features Harvesting Logging Profiles
[UPDATED] Survey snippet 10: An older workforce


December 10, 2020
By Ellen Cools


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Photo: Annex Business Media

Editor’s note: It has come to our attention that the original article published on Oct. 13 contained incomplete information, reporting the average age for a specific category of respondents only: owners, partners, managers and supervisors. This article has now been updated to include the average age of all contractors, as well as the owners, partners, managers and supervisors. CFI apologizes for this error.

The results of CFI’s 2020 Contractor Survey show that the average age in the logging industry is continuing to increase, from 49 years old in 2018 to 52 years old in 2020. This is a cause for concern for the industry as more loggers reach retirement age, and fewer young people are available to replace them.

Representation in the oldest age bracket (over 65 years old) has continued to increase from 2016, when it was just five per cent, to 12 per cent in 2018 and now up to 18 per cent in 2020. The percentage of contractors 45 and under has dropped from 45 per cent in 2018 to just 35 per cent this year.

Just two provinces report an average contractor age under 50 – Ontario and Quebec (48 and 49 years old, respectively). Ontario has the largest percentage of contractors under 25, at four per cent. The province also reports the smallest percentage over 65, at just eight per cent. Meanwhile, Alberta has the largest percentage of contractors between 26 and 35 years old, at 24 per cent, and Quebec has the largest percentage of contractors between 36 and 45 years old, at 25 per cent, although the B.C. Interior comes at a close second, at 23 per cent. Atlantic Canada also has a high percentage of contractors between 36 and 45 years old, at 20.5 per cent.

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The B.C. Interior has the largest proportion of contractors between 46 and 55 years old, at 38 per cent, followed by Alberta, with 35 per cent in this age range and then Atlantic Canada at 29.5 per cent. The estimated average age of contractors in the region is 52. Their neighbours on the Coast are the oldest on average, at 54 years old. The B.C. Coast has the highest percentage of contractors over 64, at 24 per cent. Another 48 per cent are between 46 and 55 years old. Just seven per cent of B.C. Interior and 11 per cent of B.C. Coast contractors are under the age of 35, which suggests there will be trouble when it comes to succession planning.

Percentage of contractors who are in these age brackets, by region.

Owners, partners, managers and supervisors

The average age of owners, partners, managers and supervisors across the country is 50, and in this category, only one region reports an average age under 50 – Alberta, at 46 years old. The province has the largest percentage of owners, partners, managers and supervisors who are under 35 (36 per cent). An equal percentage are between 46 and 55 years old.

Although the average age in this category in Quebec is 50 years old, the province still has the highest percentage in this category between the ages of 36 and 55 (69 per cent). Nineteen per cent are still under 35. When asked how long they expect to be in the industry, a healthy 36 per cent of Alberta contractors and 29 per cent of Quebec owners, partners, managers and supervisors say it will be 13 or more years. (Look for our report on succession plans next week).

In contrast, the B.C. Coast has the oldest owners, partners, managers and supervisors on average, at 53 years old. The rest of the regions report an average age of 50 years old in this category, except Atlantic Canada, which is slightly higher at 50.5 years old.

B.C. has the highest percentage of owners, partners, managers and supervisors who are over 65 (21 per cent in the B.C. Interior and 24 per cent in the B.C. Coast). The majority in both regions are between 46 and 55 years old (45 per cent in the B.C. Interior and 29 per cent in the B.C. Coast). Just 10 per cent and 12 per cent of this category in the B.C. Interior and B.C. Coast are under 35.

Exiting the industry

Not surprisingly, when asked how long contractors plan to stay in the industry, the average answer was just 10 years in the B.C. Coast, and 11 years in the B.C. Interior. In contrast, contractors in Quebec plan to stay in the industry for an average of 14 years and contractors in Alberta expect to be in the industry for 13 more years.

However, there is a drop in the percentage of contractors in the Interior who plan to leave the industry in five years or less – from 47 per cent in 2018 to just 24 per cent in 2020. This suggests that loggers in the region are committed to staying in the industry for longer. But in the B.C. Coast, 47 per cent of contractors say they will be out of the industry in five years or less, followed by 31.5 per cent in Atlantic Canada.

The majority of owners, partners, managers and supervisors in Atlantic Canada are between 45 and 65 years old (46.5 per cent). But, 35 per cent are between 26 and 45 years old.

Percentage of owners, partners, managers and supervisors who are in these age brackets, by region.

When we compare these numbers to our 2016 and 2018 survey results, the industry outlook is mixed. The total percentage of contractors under 55 has dropped from 70 per cent in 2018 to 62 per cent in 2020. The trend suggests the average age of loggers across the country is increasing, given the drop in contractors aged 36-45 and the corresponding increase in those aged 46-55. The jump in the percentage of contractors over 65 is especially worrying as more contractors reach retirement age. But it is interesting to note that the percentage of contractors between 26 and 34 years old has increased.

Percentage of contractors in these age ranges.

Despite the older workforce, fewer contractors are planning to leave the industry in five years or less, down from 36 per cent in 2018 to 27 per cent in 2020. Of course, we also have to consider that a number of contractors may have retired in the past two years, which might also help explain this decrease. But, with 27 per cent of loggers still expecting to get out of the industry in five years or less, and 24 per cent planning to leave in six to 10 years, we can expect the logger landscape will look very different in the coming years.

Missed last week’s survey snippet? Find a collection of reports published to date here. Look for more news from the CFI 2020 Contractor Survey in our eNews over the coming weeks, with a final digital report in December. Be sure to subscribe to our free eNews to get all the latest industry news.

This survey was conducted in April and May 2020 by independent research firm Bramm & Associates, generating 271 replies to a detailed list of questions. Respondents were distributed according to the geographic breakdown of the forest industry, with 44 per cent of respondents in Western Canada, 26 per cent in Quebec and the rest found in Ontario, Atlantic Canada, and central Canada. Within B.C., responses were split between the B.C. Coast and Interior. Many thanks to our sponsors for making this research possible – Hultdins, Tigercat and John Deere.