2018 Blogging Logging – Sub-contractors (week 7)

One of the most common workforce issues in forestry is the aging workforce. The logging workforce story in Wisconsin has two novel and important components, the age of owners and employees and the use of subcontractors.

A previous post discussed the demographics of the owners. The median age in 2016 was 56 years for logging business owners in Wisconsin. This is part of the story and we know that many of the owners do not have a plan for the succession of their business. The other part of the story is that there are younger workers in the woods. Overall a third of logging company employees were over 55, but 63% were 25-55 years old. If we look specifically at woods workers, 27% are over 55, 61% are 25-55 and 12% are under 25, so we can expect to see a few young faces at logging sites.

Table 1. Age demographics of logging business employees in Wisconsin in 2016


Woods Workers Truck Drivers Procurement Mechanics Office and Clerical Supervisors Landowner Assistance Forester

Total Employees



4% 7% 5% 3% 0% 0% 4%


61% 64% 66%


59% 40% 67%


>55 27% 32% 27% 21% 38% 60% 33%



One unique aspects of Wisconsin forestry compared with our neighbors in Michigan and Minnesota is our use of subcontractors. The 2010 logging survey found that logging businesses were equally or more likely to use subcontractors than they were to have employees. The responses regarding the use of subcontractors in the 2010 survey were interesting so we decided to ask more questions about the demographics of logging subcontractors in the most recent survey. The 2016 survey found that roughly one-third use just subcontractors, while less than one-fifth have employees. Just over one-fifth have both contractors and employees. Overall, respondents reported having more contractors than employees.


Figure 1. Employees and subcontractors in Wisconsin logging firms in 2016


What do we know about the subcontractors in the woods? We know that subcontractors tend to be younger than employees. While a third of employees are over 55, only 25% of subcontractors are over 55 while 6% are less than 25 years old. Woods workers are even younger with 10% aged less than 25.

Table 2. Age demographics of logging business subcontractors in Wisconsin in 2016


Woods Workers Truckdriver Procurement Mechanics Office Forester Total Subcontractors


10% 2% 14% 5% 0% 0%



67% 70% 57% 77% 100% 85%


>55 23% 28% 29% 18% 0% 15%



We also found that most subcontractors on the logging site had contracts lasting for more than 6 months and only 8% worked for one month or less.

Table 3. Length of contract for subcontractors working in the woods in Wisconsin in 2016

Less than one month


One to three months


Four to six months


more than six months



Nearly 60% of subcontractors working in the woods had been contracting with the same logging business for less than five years and around 40% had been contracting with the same business for more than five years.


Table 3. Tenure of subcontractors working in the woods in Wisconsin in 2016

Less than one year


One to five years


Six to ten years


More than ten years



The latest data provide new insights into the number of subcontractors working in the logging industry in Wisconsin and their demographics. Why are we so curious about subcontractors? One reason is that they are not captured by common U.S. Census surveys. The most complete source of employment and wage information in the U.S. is the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (CEW). It covers more than 95% of “jobs” in the U.S., where a job is defined as a full or part-time position that is covered by state or federal unemployment insurance laws. The data are reported based on an occupational code. For example, the code for loggers is 1133. Because sub-contractors are not subject to the same unemployment insurance laws, their positions are often not counted or counted in a category other than logging.  This wouldn’t matter if there were only a handful of subcontractors in the woods, but our findings indicate there are more subcontractors than employees in the Wisconsin logging sector.

These jobs are incredibly important and we want to be sure they are included in the jobs numbers for the Wisconsin Forest Industry. The CEW for 2016 lists 260 logging businesses in Wisconsin and 769 “employees” but if we include subcontractors that number might be more than double. Those subcontractors earn wages and contribute to the economy of Wisconsin and should be “counted.”

Author: Julie Ballweg (WDNR Division of Forestry)

Links to complete series on Week 1 post.


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