Future skills for forestry

It’s difficult to predict the skills that will be needed for the forestry industry of the future. Trees planted today won’t be harvested for two or three decades and we can’t be certain how science and technology developments will influence the types of jobs we will need in the forest and the sawmill. However, one thing will remain unchanged; the importance of engaging with young people now and showing them the wealth of opportunities that are available in the industry.

OneFortyOne New Zealand employs almost 110 people in Nelson Tasman and Marlborough and also supports a contractor and supplier network of 300 people. Finding the right people to support our operations now and into the future is critical.  

“When people consider forest industries they often think about people in the forest cutting down trees,” says Jenny van Workum, OneFortyOne New Zealand Human Resources Manager. “The sector is actually really diverse. Within forestry companies like ours we employ a wide variety of people for a range of roles such as, marketing, sales, human resources, IT, environment, silviculture, engineering, science, legal, health and safety, and supply chain. We also have harvest planners and operations people that look after the planting and management side of the business.

“Owning a sawmill means we also have saw doctors, electricians, engineers, automation and optimisation technicians, and mechanics. Within the wider industry we also have truck drivers, inventory people, dispatch…so there are a huge variety of jobs and opportunities.”

Even the way that we plant and harvest trees is not how many people might imagine. “It’s not people behind chainsaws these days, it’s people working in, and operating a machine. And that’s only one sector of our forest operation. In Australia we are using drones to monitor fire risk and weed management. In the future we will need people who have the skills to operate sophisticated technology that hasn’t even been developed yet.

“As technology advances, people directly dealing with drones and machinery, or people interpreting the data that we’re receiving back from those machines, are becoming a more and more integral part of the work that we do. This means that there is an increasing demand for people that have technology skills. Regardless of technological advances, interacting with people will always be needed and important.”

“What we look for generally is people that are interested in the industry, are approachable, have a good attitude, want to learn, and are willing to turn their hand to a variety of tasks and learn different things. In order to continue to improve we need people that are not afraid to be innovative and speak up if they think something could be done better or differently. We want people that can engage with others to make things happen and to get things done. We are looking for people that are passionate about the industry, want to learn more, and want to see working with us as a career and an opportunity to develop.”

OneFortyOne New Zealand is very focused on continuous improvement, encouraging ideas to be put forward so it can think about different ways of doing things.

“We’re looking for people that are willing to put their hands up and ask questions,” says Jenny. “Diversity is very important to us in lots of different ways – whether that’s indicated by our people’s heritage, experience, age and gender. It’s very important to us that our business reflects the communities in which we work.”

One Forty One Human Resources Manager Jenny van Workum talking drones with Chris Ensor, left, and Christoph Riedel, Richmond, New Zealand

There are several avenues available to young people wanting to join forestry including tertiary degrees – Forestry Engineering and Forestry Science, apprenticeships, scholarships, graduate roles in business and forestry fields, on-the-job unit standard training, working in a harvesting crew and seasonal planting opportunities. 

As someone who has taken a degree pathway into the industry supported by a multi-year scholarship from OneFortyOne New Zealand, which included work placements during his studies, Christoph Reidel is well placed to provide a perspective on the roadblocks for the industry when it comes to attracting young people.

“A glaring issue facing this industry is its ageing workforce,” says Christoph. “This is not limited to any particular aspect of forestry and is also an issue facing other industries both within New Zealand and across the globe.

“I think the biggest barriers to young people entering the industry are a negative perception of the industry (particularly the perception held by their parents), and the lack of knowledge surrounding our work and the opportunities available within the industry.”

Christoph is a great example of how to construct a fantastic career in forestry. He is now OneFortyOne New Zealand Forestry Operations Planner and is highly regarded within the business.

“Forestry jobs are always changing and it is hard to predict the future. Having said that, I think that people skills and the ability and motivation to keep learning are the two most important traits needed for a person to succeed in this industry. I don’t anticipate that will change, no matter what technology we have at our disposal.”

For more information go to: www.forestrycareers.nz

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