The future in forestry – a combined approach

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Southern forestry employers are adopting a collaborative approach to ensure the next generation of workers are not only keen on what the industry can offer but have the necessary skills to take on these positions.

In order to showcase opportunities available and ignite interest, a forestry careers day was held in Winton on March 21, dubbed ‘Be the Future of Forestry.

Hosted by Southland Youth Futures in partnership with Acacia Farmery and other local members of the newly-formed Future Foresters Group, the day was a great success and there are talks to replicate the format in Otago.

With a turnout of more than 70 students and a dozen teachers, including a group from the Tokomairiro High School’s new forestry class, attendees were exposed to forestry career opportunities spread throughout the supply chain – from a nursery producing seedlings, through harvesting and forestry management, to timber processing and log exporting. The sustainability and environmental aspects of forestry were also covered.

Among the displays and demonstrations were drone technology, processing equipment and a harvesting simulator supplied by Balclutha-based logging contractor Mike Hurring.

Around 26,000 Kiwis are currently employed in forestry and downstream industries such as processing and exporting, and that number is set to increase following the Government’s one billion trees policy.

“It’s certainly a big area and there is plenty of work available,” says Southland Youth Futures Co-ordinator Allison Beckham.

“Employers are seeking younger people to complement the aging workforce in Southland and New Zealand. They need young people willing to learn and full of energy and who can come to grips with all the new technology.”  

Formed in 2015, Southland Youth Futures offers young people career exploration opportunities and career advice, predominantly in the primary sector. Beckham has been working with Rayonier Matariki Forests and the Southern Wood Council (SWC) for about two years.

On its Facebook page, Southland Youth Futures promotes “jobs with prospects” suitable for young people, including many within the forestry industry. More than 100 in total have been listed on job sites in Southland alone since January, Allison says.

The jobs include apprenticeships, cadetships and trainee positions, targeted at anyone new to a particular industry but with a focus on school leavers and new tertiary graduates.

“It reinforces the fact that there are many employers in Southland willing to give newbies a chance.”

Mike Hurring runs the recently opened forestry training school in Balclutha, so is passionate and actively involved in engaging the next generation of forestry workers. The school had its first intake in November last year.

His contracting company is the largest in the Otago and Southland region and he has experienced firsthand the skill shortage in his industry – a situation he says is not something unique to him. In response, he purchased his own training simulators which are based on a John Deere mechanised harvester. These are in place at the training school and are a major part of the training programme.

The first intake of six apprentices will undertake five one-week training blocks over 10 months which focus on basic machine and chainsaw operation, theory units and simulator training. Those who pass will walk away with two Level 3 qualifications and will be set up to continue their training on the job towards Level 4 machine operator qualifications.

The training school took off with the help and support of local forestry companies and industry training organisation Competenz.

Forestry initiatives and successes were celebrated at the SWC Forestry Awards, held on Friday, May 24.

The SWC was formed in 2001 to promote encourage and coordinate the sustainable economic development of the forest product industries in Otago and Southland. It represents all major forest owners and wood processing companies within that region. The first awards were held in 2015 and have continued to be a major fixture on the forestry calendar since.

This year’s event was held at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium.

“The turnout by forestry workers, their families and supporters reflects the momentum that’s been building over the last year or so with training and safety in this region,” SWC chairman Grant Dodson said in a release.

Guests were entertained by Jamie Mackay, host of radio show The Country, and Davey Hughes, founder of New Zealand outdoor clothing brand SWAZI.

Around 160 National Training Certificates in Forestry & Wood Processing and nine major industry awards were presented throughout the evening, indicating steady growth and a strong nod to the success of the strategic, collaborative approach that is attracting and retaining fresh new faces.

Award winners:

  • Training Excellence Award – Apprentice of the Year (Sponsored by Southwood Export): Paige Harland, Harland Bros
  • Training Excellence Award – Forestry Trainee of the Year (harvesting) (Sponsored by Rayonier/ Matariki Forests): Hemi Pickett, Ferris Logging, and Logan Bennett, Mike Hurring Logging
  • Training Excellence Award – Forestry Trainee of the Year (silviculture) (Sponsored by Port Blakely): Adam McLennan, Johnson Forestry Services
  • Skilled Professionals Awards – Forestry Excellence Award (establishment, silviculture, fire, harvesting) (Sponsored by Wenita Forest Products): Billy Tredinnick, Forestry Training Services
  • Skilled Professionals Awards – Wood Processing Excellence Award (Sponsored by UDC): Jamie Carr, Pan Pac Forest Products (Otago)
  • Skilled Professionals Awards – Forest Products/Logistics/Transport/Port Award (Sponsored by Pan Pac Forest Products (Otago): Stephen Gray, NFA Holdings and Craig Unahi, NFA Holdings
  • Industry Excellence Awards – Forestry Environmental Management Excellence Award (Sponsored by Otago Regional Council): Matt Winmill, Gillion Logging
  • Industry Excellence Awards – Training Company/Contractor of the Year (Sponsored by City Forests): Johnson Forestry Services
  • Industry Excellence Awards – Forest Products Health & Safety Award (Sponsored by Ernslaw One): Dynes Transport
  • Harvesting Apprentices – Otago Southland. Around 160 National Training Certificates achieved in Forestry & Wood Processing were awarded to forestry and wood processing employees.