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Industry with a bright future

Given the recent careers expo in Rotorua, I thought it appropriate to discuss our industry, and the opportunities within it.  I’d like to acknowledge Paul Burridge from the NZFOA Training and Promotions Committee who I cite within this article.

“Forestry is much more than growing and harvesting plantation forests.  People of all ages and abilities will find great careers in forestry – planting and managing native or exotic forests, looking after the forest environment, managing people and resources, working with state-of-the-art technology, and operating multi-million dollar machines and equipment.  Some forestry jobs go all year, while others are seasonal. Some are inside, some are outside.  Some pay $19-25 / hr, some pay more than $250,000 per year.”  This is an extract from the new ForestryCareers.NZ portal, that was launched early May at Parliament.

Future Foresters was established in 2018 primarily to provide a voice and community for new people entering the forestry industry. Amongst other things, Future Foresters has run a successful social media video campaign, spreading the word that there are many different careers in forestry, rather than just “being in the bush”. Their work at the Rotorua Careers Expo this month involved chatting to the next generation of future foresters by showing them some of what their jobs entail and there was good representation from PF Olsen, Timberlands, Port Blakely, and Rayonier, plus some  forestry contractors and both Toi-Ohomai and the School of Forestry-University of Canterbury. Another expo will be held in Tauranga in August that they hope to have a similar presence at, especially given the audience may be slightly larger.

We have an amazing industry full of diverse opportunities and unfortunately not many people know enough about it, and what they do know, is often based on a small volume of unfavourable but significant events.  This includes our unfavourable safety story, and the small volume of high impact environmental events, all of which culminate in a poor perception of our industry, and a reducing tolerance to our social legitimacy as an industry.  The intent of this discussion is not to defend these events, nor to discuss the ongoing investment in time, energy, resource, and commitment to improve them, but to discuss the elements that might positively influence perception and attract people and further investment into the sector.

Almost anyone you speak to with a career in forestry will talk passionately about the sector, about the opportunities available, about the lifestyle it provides, and about the people within it.  We will acknowledge areas for improvement, but we tend not to talk about our wider contribution to the environment, to our economy, to our communities, and to the recognition we receive; economically, socially, and politically.

Some headlines:

  • New Zealand’s plantation forests cover 1.7 million hectares, achieving $6.4B in export earnings ranked 3rd highest from the primary sector. 
  • Plantation forests represent 12% of total land use, natural forests make up 29%.
  • Forestry is one of very few industries that have a significant favourable benefit on global warming and improving our waterways by reducing carbon and nitrogen from the ecosystem.
  • The industry has a zero-tolerance approach to the use of drugs and alcohol relative to safety and job performance.
  • Development and adoption of technology continues to increase exponentially with use of fully mechanised operations; drone, radar, and low orbit satellite applications; autonomous sensing and data transmission to name a few.
  • Technology and innovation in forest product outputs securing our future.

With growing social and consequently political pressure to reduce carbon emissions, reduce land erosion, and improve freshwater quality, the industry’s future remains robust given forests are a natural offset.  Despite plantations largely being a monoculture, biodiversity is also benefiting with a number of distinct and endangered species being found and managed in our forests including Kiwi, native bats, snails, and lizards – all traditionally found in native forests.  Erosion reduction is a favourable outcome of forestry when applied appropriately.

Investment opportunities in the industry are increasing as well with Carbon Trading giving rise to annual income streams to augment traditionally long timeframes between investment (planting) and return (harvesting).  In addition, there is increasing recognition of forestry as an alternate commercial land use to low productivity pastoral farming that does not involve conversion of entire farms, only areas that are appropriate.  This coupled with access to government funding to assist increased afforestation, particularly of native species only adds to the favourable outlook for our industry.

Our industry speaks for itself after a little research and the breadth of opportunities are becoming evident.  The audience we could pay increased attention are those who are not aware of our existence - kids who often grow up in a city and are moved towards city-based professions like law or commerce at the end of their school career, with little to no comprehension of what forestry is. Promisingly, the School of Forestry has had one of their biggest intakes in 2019, and forest engineers are also increasing in volume.

Our future lies in attracting outstanding talent to our industry to continue the work started.  The rate of change is increasing, and adaptation is necessary.  The outlook is great, and the commercial, social, and environmental outcomes attributable to our industry can and will be outstanding.  We have excellent career opportunities, and the work started by Paul, continued by the Future Foresters this week remains important for us to build upon.

By choosing to work for a company involved in forestry we all have a part to play in encouraging the next generation, regardless of our roles within the business. Future Foresters are doing their best to yell it from the treetops, and don’t underestimate the positive effect you can have on young people at what is be a critical juncture – profession selection. I would encourage everyone to speak loudly about our industry and take any opportunities that come up to advocate for the contributions we are making economically, socially, and environmentally.