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Hardwood University Ensures Sustainable Management of Indiana’s Woodlands

Indiana ranks fourth in the U.S. in hardwood industry production. According to Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources, the hardwood industry contributes $17 billion in value-added to the Indiana economy. However, lack of skilled hardwood employees is the No. 1 impediment to industry success and growth. The number of job openings in wood products manufacturing exceeds the number of qualified applicants by a factor of 3:1 to 10:1. Hardwood industries employees require specialized training to produce lumber and hardwood products, and to maintain sustainable productivity of forest resources.

Purdue Extension annually offers a program, Hardwood University, to provide expertise, technical assistance, and education to industrial stakeholders engaged in wood products manufacturing to solve issues related to raw material quality, processing technologies, and manufacturing efficiency. Participants are business owners, chief executive and operations officers, production managers, supervisors, engineers, designers, equipment operators and industry associations in both primary hardwood products manufacturing for lumber and veneer, and secondary wood products manufacturing of furniture, cabinets, millwork, flooring and others. Nine monthly sessions during the academic year provide over 50 hours of instruction. Each session is a minimum of six hours and held at forestry or manufacturing worksites across Indiana. Hardwood industry professionals learned about sustainability of material supply, best management practices, procurement and marketing, tree, log and lumber quality and measurement, step-by-step processing techniques, equipment, and decision-making.

Participants may choose to focus on one of three tracks: 1) primary industry for log buyers, sawmill, stave mill, veneer mill, and lumber drying operators, 2) secondary industry for furniture, cabinet, millwork and other manufacturers of wood products, and 3) training a la carte for companies and individuals that would like to organize in-house training on a selected topic. Participants who finish all nine sessions in a chosen track within two years receive a program completion recognition from external partner Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association. In addition, sessions qualify for continuing education credits for certified foresters (Society of American Foresters), and consulting foresters (Association of Consulting Foresters). In one year of the program, 168 employees attended the sessions. Participants were employees new to the hardwood industry and employees preparing for advancement or cross-training.

On post-surveys, participants indicated they learned something new, increased awareness, and learned new skills. Participants indicated practices from the sessions that they plan to implement in the next 12 months. Most comments addressed lumber drying, including adjust kiln drying schedule, build/buy lumber dry kiln, change kiln startup procedure, change yard locations for drying particular species, eliminate standing water in yard, improve air flow in yard, and establish lumber drying operation. Also mentioned were: setting up lumber grading for company and training employees to grade lumber, conducting saw maintenance and changing sawing procedures, focusing on management – getting more education, implementing plan, or pursuing professional assistance, and identifying and sorting lumber by quality. Purdue Extension’s training for employees working in the hardwoods industry helps produce skilled workers for company success and to ensure sustainable management of woodlands across Indiana.

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