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Levy funded Forestry Training and Careers Committee

Alan Reid, New Zealand Tree Grower May 2018.

In bygone times colourful posters on lamp posts and walls, featuring bronzed sailors and exotic seascapes, exhorted young people to join the navy and see the world. Nothing has changed with the need to attract, train and retain staff in a profession, although the recruitment is no longer via colourful posters and less through printed media and more increasingly through mobile phones and social media.

Training in New Zealand forestry used to be under the nurturing blanket of government. That changed in the 1980s and the task fell to new organisations. Today’s bronzed sailor image of forestry may depict scenes of timber harvesting. Now the demands are for people skilled in a variety of work such as nursery work, machinery technology, road engineering, information technology, mapping, robotics and genetics.Therefore training has to keep up and keep ahead, attract funds, promote in the media and compete in the recruitment market while addressing critical safety concerns which are a critical element of training.

In this context, the Forestry Training and Careers Committee, funded and supported, by the Forest Growers Levy Trust, has been taking a fresh look at the complex picture of the training needs and careers across the New Zealand forest industry. The recent focus on training emerged from the findings of the Independent Forestry Safety Review in 2014 and subsequent formation of
the Forest Industry Safety Council.The latter began to explore industry training needs as part of its renewed effort towards solving safety issues across the industry.

Training and safety are obviously vitally linked but it became evident that training and education across the whole span of forestry as an industry, sector and profession warranted a separate discussion. The NZ Forest Owners Association and the NZFFA decided this was needed and the new committee convened. It has now met twice, in late 2017 and in February 2018.

The committee has been asked to −

  • Consult on, and develop, a co-ordinated view on plantation forestry standards, qualifications and training needs
  • Work with the Forest Industry Safety Council, the Forest Industries Contractors Association and Competenz, the forest industry training organisation, as well as funders and training providers to ensure standards and training solutions are supplying those needs
  • Assume some of the career-promotion tasks of the levy-funded Promotions Committee
  • Leveraging off other funding sources
  • Working to promote forestry as a key primary sector through the NZ Forest Owners Association membership of the Primary Industry Capability Alliance.

The NZFFA is represented on the committee and there is an opportunity to find out the training needs of its members.

Training is important

History shows that the importance of forestry training, along with its diverse requirements across the whole sector has long been recognised. Forestry people know that forestry is a long-term enterprise and training is about the people that make up that enterprise.

When the government was directly involved in forestry the woodsman, ranger and university training institutions produced a range of technical and management-skilled people to manage, research and plan the expanding plantation estate.There were training centres which taught a full range of technical and life skills and the training systems were built around a relatively clear strategic view of New Zealand forestry. Graduates of these programmes continue to exert a strong influence in forestry and, in fact, other sectors.

With the exit of government from direct involvement forestry in the reforms of the 1980s and closure or reduction in training centres, new solutions were sought to meet and fund continuing training needs.At the same time reforms in education meant changes in the way training was carried out.There was concern about the then relevance and applicability of forestry skills. Organisations such as the NZ Forest Owners Association and Timber Industry Federation sought more coordination of training resulting in the 1991 establishment of the Forest Industries Training and Education Council. Known as FITEC, the functions included a strategic, coordinating and regionally-focused role. It looked for government funding, set qualifications for skill level training and organised resource materials for schools. A joint FITEC and Ministry of Forestry education project produced forestry education modules for schools from new entrants to the final year. FITEC merged into Competenz in 2013.

The contemporary issues about training, with the obvious elevation of public and sector concerns about safety, are much as they were all those years ago.The broad spectrum of skills and qualifications for forestry remain as they have always been. But training content also needs to keep abreast of changes to remain relevant and in the shorter term, changing public perceptions, education and funding priorities and economic returns all affect the direction of and support for forestry training. In addition, training systems need to keep pace with new technology along with the attitudes and aspirations of the new generation.

Broad representation

The meetings of the new training and careers committee have representation from companies, contractors, training institutions, wood councils, Crown Forestry, NZ Institute of Forestry, NZ Forest Owners Association and the NZFFA. There has been good regional representation from around the North Island but none from the South Island. Hopefully this will improve as regional perspectives are important.
Below are some emerging issues from the discussions.

  • There is significant concern about the shortage of skilled staff in forest operations, but also examples across New Zealand of training initiatives, often with a regional, community or company focus. Some of these with live-in facilities aim to teach self-reliance. These reflect shortages in important practical skills where staff turnover is high.
  • Nationally, forestry seems to lack the ability to promote its broad diversity and its need for a wide range of skills. This is not well understood and not well canvassed in the important national organisations such as the Tertiary Education Commission and the Primary Industry Capability Alliance.
  • Presentations on specific training initiatives and commentary by company, trainers and contractors from Northland, central North Island and the East Coast were initiatives and programmes which would contribute valuable perspectives in a national approach.
  • The presentations and the discussion highlighted the concerns of contractors, especially the shortage of trained staff, ensuring retention of staff and the time and resources needed. They emphasised the need for skilled machine operators and ensuring the deployment of the inevitable skills that will be required.
  • Primary industries only get three per cent of the Tertiary Education Commission funding.Within that, the forestry voice needs to be better heard in the collective area of primary industry training and careers. By comparison, the dairy sector has a strong, well-funded and well-organised profile.
  • The regional wood councils can play key role and the work by the Eastland Wood Council to improve the public perception of forest related industries, in part the social licence to operate, and a recruitment and training plan is an example.The Eastland Wood Council is producing informative videos and talking to school leavers. It aims to support a ‘boot camp’ induction, teaching some skills and part-time study or on-site training over at least a 12-month period.
  • Attendees emphasised that electronic media will have an important and growing role in promotion.The younger generation, and especially recruits to forestry, read less and rely more what is readily at hand from mobile phones and similar devices and effective communication will mainly be with these.

Farm forester interests in training

Farm forestry operations at a property scale and perhaps those among collective farm forestry groups suggest that relevant training regimes are likely to be about operational and safety skills. Nevertheless, the diversity of backgrounds and location among owners of small woodlots which includes farmers, city-based investors and partnerships, also suggests there could be demand for a variety of training and courses. These may cater, for example, to owners and investors with an interest in the business, policies and future developments in forests and forestry.

Small-scale foresters are also uniquely placed to understand and promote the skills and knowledge about silviculture and farming working together in the variety of situations around our regions. The government’s Billion Tree Programme will rely on scaling-up tree planting on farm land. This is likely to take the form of commercial afforestation as well as a variety of planting, species, management and investment in other forms of tree management possibly for carbon, but also for stock shelter and water.

It may be useful to consider the farm forester potential input to training by −

  • Keeping abreast of the training models and funding being proposed because this affects the interests of small growers, such as availability of task-specific training, training in health and safety and easing the shortage of the staff coming into the industry
  • Contributing regional and property-scale perspectives to a proposed national approach
  • Contributing their understanding of broader land management issues, the social licence of forestry to operate and how forestry training overlaps into farming skills and the common requirements of both
  • Identifying the training regimes which better inform those with an interest in forest investment, forest- related policy, and the business of harvest, as well as those working with a variety of tree species or indigenous forest block management.

Alan Reid is one of the NZFFA representatives on the levy funded ForestryTraining and Careers Committee.


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