Chainsaw and Skidder Operators

Unit Group 8421

Skill Type: Occupations Unique to Primary Industry

Type of work

Chainsaw and skidder operators operate chain saws to fell, delimb and buck trees, and operate skidders to move or yard the felled trees from the logging site to the landing area for processing and transportation.

For the full and official description of this occupation according to the National Occupational Classification, visit the NOC site.

Examples of Occupational Titles

  • bucker
  • chainsaw operator
  • faller
  • feller
  • forest worker - logging
  • grapple skidder operator
  • landingman
  • pieceworker - logging
  • skidder operator

Outlook

Job prospects in this occupation are fair.

(Updated: October 2015)

The number of chainsaw and skidder operators increased in the second half 90s, and then decreased sharply. These changes depend mainly on the trends that affect the forest industry. In view of the remoteness of sources of supply, public pressure on environmental issues and the outlook in the forestry industry, their number should increase slightly over the next few years.

Sources of employment

Employment opportunities will arise primarily from positions that become available as chainsaw and skidder operators retire. Approximately 34% of operators were aged 55 and over in 2011, much higher than the proportion for all occupations (18%), according to National Household Survey data. There will be a few additional opportunities as a result of replacement needs owing to operators who will be promoted to supervisory positions and, to a lesser degree, of employment increase.

Labour pool

Opportunities will be open primarily to unemployed operators and workers in other occupations in the forestry sector who meet employers' requirements. Although this pool also includes graduates with a Vocational Studies Diploma (DEP) in Abattage manuel et débardage forestier, the hiring of graduates is not very common yet in this occupation. In fact, the proportion of people in this occupation who held a post-secondary diploma in 2006 was very low (35% compared with 68% for all occupations), although it had increased significantly since 1991 (10%), according to census and National Household Survey data. Furthermore, the number of students entering this vocational program has been declining sharply in recent years, falling nearly 80% between 2000-2001 and 2013-2014. Very few openings are likely to be filled by immigrants who satisfy employer requirements, as the proportion of immigrants in this occupation was very low in 2011 (6% compared with 14% in all occupations), according to National Household Survey data.

Although this pool may seem vast at first glance, recruiting difficulties do exist in some regions. These difficulties are mainly due to difficult working conditions. Indeed, many operators have to leave home for extended periods to work in increasingly remote areas.

Data from the provincial government Relance survey on the labour market situation of graduates of the Diploma of Vocational Studies (DEP) in Abattage manuel et débardage forestier (manual tree cutting and logging; offered in French) cannot be used to assess the relevance of the training program. First, because this DEP enables graduates to enter other forest-related occupations. Second, because the survey is always conducted in March, when seasonal unemployment is at its highest. The high level of unemployment of these graduates and their low placement rate in training-related jobs are primarily a result of the small number of jobs available at that time of year.

The Relance survey provides data on the labour market situation for graduates in June since those of 2009. These data allow us to see that the situation for graduates of this program is much better in June than in March, but remains less good than that of all graduates of DEP.

Industries

According to National Household Survey data, in May 2011 about 76% of chainsaw and skidder operator worked in the forestry sector. A significant number were also found in agriculture (6%) and in wood product manufacturing (5%).

Trends

The pattern of employment in this occupation depends on trends that affect forestry industrie, as well as on mechanization of logging operations.

Forestry

Changes in employment in this industry depends primarily on the demand for trees and the availability of supply.

Demand for trees

The primary sources of demand for trees are the wood product manufacturing and paper manufacturing industries. The paper manufacturing industry has lost a great deal of ground in recent years, both with respect to international competition and because of dropping demand for newsprint, particularly in the United States. In the other hand, demand for of other types of paper remained fairly stable over the same period, performance that can't counterbalance the consequences of the decline in newsprint. Another, more recent trend is the increasing demand for paper in developing countries, especially China and India. Although it may be early to draw conclusions about the sustainability and scope of the increase, the fact that paper consumption in these countries is still much lower than in industrialized nations means this may be a promising market. Given that the future outlook looks only a little brighter, we anticipate that demand for wood products from this industry will drop slightly in the coming years, at a much slower rate than in previous years.

The wood manufacturing industry benefited greatly from the growth in exports to the United States during the 1990s and was able to sustain and actually increase production until 2004 because of the strength of the residential construction sector in Quebec. From 2004 to 2011, the bottom fell out of the actual value (after inflation) of exports (close to 70% decrease) and domestic sales dropped by more than 35%, for a close to 50 % decrease in the combined value of all shipments. The situation has however recovered between 2011 and 2014, the real value of shipments rose close to 30%, mainly due to the increase in the value of exports to the United States (up more than 65%). As this recent trend is likely to continue, the value of shipments is expected to continue to increase over the coming years.

Since the effects of the decreased demand for wood products by the paper manufacturing industry should counteract the increased demand in the wood products manufacturing industry, it is expected that this demand will have only a slightly beneficial effect on forest sector output and employment in the next few years.

Availability of the supply source

Supply sources are increasingly far away from processing mills. Despite this, cutting activities were at a historically high level until 2004-2005, according to data from the Quebec Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife. In view of this apparent contradiction and pressure from the public and environmental groups to preserve certain forests and to condemn over-harvesting that exceeds forests' regenerative capabilities, the government asked the Commission for the Study of Public Forest Management to review the situation. The Commission's report, known as the Coulombe Report, was submitted in December 2004 and recommended a 10% reduction in the allowable cut in forests and a 20% reduction in the allowable cut for softwood lumber in the boreal forest.

At the end of 2006, the Chief Forester, a position created as a result of the Coulombe report recommendations, published the results of his first allowable cut calculations. His data calls for a 22% decrease in the allowable cut from 2008 to 2013 from what was set out for the 2000-2008 period, or a slightly larger decrease than that recommended in the Coulombe report. Similarly, in 2011 he established the allowable cuts for 2013-2014 will fall another 10%. On the other hand, the preliminary results for the period 2014-2018 suggest an increase of 6% compared to 2013. These changes may, however, be very different from one region to another.

The decreased demand for wood products caused an even sharper drop in the harvest than was recommended by the Chief Forester. The volume harvested decreased by over 45% from 2004-2005 to 2009-2010. Given that this level of harvest is very low in historical terms, it will be possible to meet the slight increase in the demand for wood products. Moreover, the harvest volume increased by 18% between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013, but still remained over 40% lower than its 2004-2005 level.

Conclusion for forestry

Because of the slight increase in the demand for wood products, the number of jobs in the forest industry should increase slightly in the next few years.

Mechanization of logging operations

In the 70s, mechanization of forestry activities eliminated many lumberjacking jobs, but at the same time, it also created many jobs for logging machinery operators (see 8241). Logging with chainsaws became less and less widespread, often confined to areas that are difficult for machinery to access, such as steep slopes, and to the felling of specific species. In view of the serious consequences of work injuries, these operators are also required to undergo training in safe logging machinery operation to obtain a certificate as a professional machinery operator.

The trend towards hiring logging machinery operators rather than chainsaw operators has decreased considerably in recent years. This trend should continue over the next few years, as the use of logging machinery is now well-established in those areas where it is more effective than chainsaws.

With regard to skidder operators, a number of technological innovations, including the addition of electronic and hydraulic components, has led to modifications and adjustments to skidders and forwarders. The impact of these innovations on labour market needs was noticeable in the past, but will be negligible in the future, as they have now been widely introduced.

Other trends

Most businesses in the wood and paper sectors subcontract their logging operations to contractors, including co-operatives and operators who are responsible for their own equipment and work for a lump sum. This trend explains why the proportion of self-employed workers has increased sharply over the past few years in this occupational group, reaching 45% in 2011 (compared with 20% in 1996), or more than four times the proportion for all occupations (11%).

Finally, it should be noted that because this occupation is directly associated with harvesting activities, it was one of those most affected by declining demand for lumber, the greater distances from supply sources and declining forest potential. Because some degree of growth in the forest industry is anticipated, employment in this occupation is expected to increase at a rate fairly similar to that of all occupations in the forest sector. This is why the number of chainsaw and skidder operators should increase slightly over the next few years.

Employment characteristics

Data presented in the "Characteristics" section under "Statistics" are taken from the 2011 National Household Survey. Most data refer to people who held a job in this occupation during the survey reference week at the beginning of May 2011. However, May is a month during which seasonal unemployment is at its highest in this occupation. Moreover, the survey showed about 65 % more people working in this occupation in 2010 (2,600) than in May 2011 (about 1,600).

According to census and National Household Survey data, women held only 3% of the jobs in this occupation in 2011, a percentage that has remained fairly stable since 1991. The annual employment income ($22,829) shown in the "Characteristics" section of the "Statistics" applies only to the 28% of people in this occupation who worked full time and full-year in 2010. The average employment income for those who did not work full time and full-year was $18,851. In 2010 they worked approximately 33 weeks per year, clearly less than in all occupations. Unemployment is at its highest in April and May, during the spring thaw, and at its lowest from July to November. The number of employment insurance recipients is five times higher in April and May than in September.

Education and Training

It is possible to work in this occupation without any specific training. According to National Household Survey data, in 2011 barely 35% of people in this occupation had a post-secondary education (compared with 68% for all occupations). In addition, about 48% of them did not have a high school diploma (DES, compared with 12% for all occupations).

Employers generally require some years of experience in the forestry sector. A first-aid training is an asset. On-the-job training is sometimes provided. Some operators are also required to undergo training in safe machinery operation to obtain a certificate as a professional logging machinery operator.

A Certificate of Qualification in manual tree cutting is also offered. This certificate can be a prerequisite to employment and is an asset in any event.

The DEP in Abattage manuel et débardage forestier (manual tree cutting and logging; offered in French), is an asset for candidates looking to enter this occupation.

Useful References

Important Considerations

In view of the remoteness of sources of supply, public pressure on environmental issues and the outlook in the forestry industry, the number of chainsaw and skidder operators should increase slightly over the next few years.

It is possible to work in this occupation without any specific training.

The labour pool may seem vast at first glance, but recruiting difficulties do exist in some regions, mainly due to difficult working conditions.

Statistics 8421 - Chainsaw and Skidder Operators

Main Labour Market Indicators

In the following table, indicators such as the growth rate, yearly variation in employment, yearly attrition and total annual requirements are forecasts generated by economists from Service Canada, Quebec region. The data source for employment is Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey. The volumes of unemployment insurance beneficiaries come from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC)’s administrative data. All of the data are rounded.

  Unit Group 8421 All occupations
Employment, average 2011-2013 2,800 3,990,050
Employment Insurance claimants in 2013 200 80,700
Average Annual Growth Rate 2014-2018 0.3% 0.7%
Annual Employment Variation 2014-2018 10 26,500
Annual Attrition 2014-2018 90 74,300
Total Annual Needs 2014-2018 100 100,800

Employment Distribution

The data from the following employment distribution tables come from Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey (NHS).

  Unit Group 8421 All occupations
Employment by Gender
Males 97.1% 51.9%
Females 2.9% 48.1%
Employment by Age
15 - 24 years 6.1% 13.3%
25 - 44 years 31.6% 42.7%
45 - 64 years 53.0% 41.1%
65 years and over 9.3% 2.8%
Employment by Status
Full-time 88.6% 81.2%
Part-time 11.4% 18.8%
Employment by Annual Income
Full-time, full-year 28.4% 54.8%
Annual Average Income $22,800 $50,300
$0 - $19,999 59.8% 13.3%
$20,000 - $49,999 29.9% 48.0%
$50,000 and over 10.3% 38.8%
Employment by Highest Level of Schooling
Less than high-school 48.2% 12.1%
High-school 15.9% 20.3%
Post-secondary 33.7% 44.2%
Bachelors 2.3% 23.4%
Others Employment Distribution
Self-employment 45.4% 10.7%
Immigration 6.4% 13.7%
Employment by Region
RegionUnit Group 8421 All occupations
Abitibi-Témiscamingue 4.8% 1.8%
Bas-Saint-Laurent 5.1% 2.3%
Capitale-Nationale 2.2% 9.4%
Centre-du-Québec 8.3% 2.9%
Chaudière-Appalaches 14.7% 5.5%
Côte-Nord / Nord-du-Québec 3.2% 1.6%
Estrie 17.6% 3.8%
Gaspésie–îles-de-la-Madeleine 3.8% 0.9%
Lanaudière 2.9% 6.1%
Laurentides 11.5% 7.3%
Laval 0.0% 5.2%
Mauricie 1.3% 3.0%
Montérégie 7.1% 19.2%
Montréal 4.5% 22.9%
Outaouais 6.7% 4.9%
Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean 6.1% 3.3%

Main Sectors of Employment

The data of the following table were prepared by economists from Service Canada, Quebec region. The data source is Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey (NHS).

SectorUnit Group 8421
Forestry and Logging 75.8%
Agriculture 8.4%
Manufacturing 6.7%