Wood Business

Features Harvesting Logging Profiles
Survey snippet 10: An older workforce


October 13, 2020
By Ellen Cools


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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 50 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.

Unlike in 2018, when the age ranges varied between provinces, now only one region reports an average age under 50 – Alberta. The average age of contractors in that province is 46. The province has the largest percentage of contractors who are under 35 (36 per cent). An equal percentage of Alberta contractors are between 46 and 55 years old.

Although the average age of contractors in Quebec has jumped from 40 in 2018 to 50 in 2020, the province still has the highest percentage of contractors between the ages of 36 and 55 (69 per cent). Nineteen per cent of contractors 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 contractors 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 workforce on average, at 53 years old. The rest of the regions report an average age of 50 years old, except Atlantic Canada, which is slightly higher at 50.5 years old.

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B.C. has the highest percentage of contractors who are over 65 (21 per cent in the B.C. Interior and 24 per cent in the B.C. Coast). The majority of contractors 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 contractors in the B.C. Interior and B.C. Coast are under 35.

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 contractors 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 contractors 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 remains relatively unchanged (69 per cent in 2020 vs. 70 per cent in 2018 and 69 per cent in 2016). The trend suggests the average age of loggers across the country is increasing, given the drop in contractors aged 36-45 and the corresponding jump in those aged 46-55. But it is interesting to note that the percentage of contractors between 26 and 34 years old has increased, even compared to 2016 levels.

Percentage of contractors in these age ranges.

This change might help account for the drop in the percentage of contractors planning to leave the industry in five years or less, 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 and a summary in the November/December print issue. 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.