General Skills Project – Forestry and Wood Processing Workforce Council

Published by Joy Hellyer | 22 April 2021

The Forestry and Wood Processing Workforce Council (the Council) has been established to manage and develop workforce capability for the industry. We do this by working on projects to meet objectives in the Action Plan.

Find out about the Forestry and Wood Processing Workforce Action Plan 2020-2024.

One of the objectives is to “Increase on-the-job training, professional development, and knowledge and application of best practice”. Another is to “Strengthen and support professional identity and pride among forestry and wood processing workers”.

We have a project around these objectives – called “General Skills”.

Nearly every new employee in the forestry and wood processing industry lacks knowledge about the industry, the commercial aspects of the employer’s work in the forest or processing site, and his/her role in the industry. This project recognises that a new employee has a task to perform for the employer that will create a financial benefit to the employer: training for this task takes precedence.

The new employee – and his/her training - must focus initially on the task to be of economic benefit to the employer. But having started the training required for the task, we see the need to also give the new employee a “grounding” in the industry, to develop greater maturity, to deliver training needed to operate within the industry as well as within task elements.

This project has grown out of that perceived gap in knowledge, plus the opportunity to mentor new employees, especially young rural people fresh out of school, the need to recognise achievements, and the need to record training at the employee level.

The concept identifies the skills and knowledge needed to make a fully rounded worker: one who will stay in the industry. Currently, concentration on new employees is geared to developing task skills as soon as possible. This could be headed ‘the how’. Too often ‘the what’ and ‘the why’ don’t feature in their training. We try to recognise that people will always perform better if they know why they are doing certain things rather than just ‘how’.

To deliver this extra training, we plan to make more use – wide use – of mentors. So we need to identify mentors and train them - in coaching, face to face contact and in building trust and confidence between parties.

We have also determined that a recognition can be given at the completion of milestones through early employment – for example after a first month of employment. Consider the employee’s story – he/she has:

  • completed the first month in a new role
  • become used to new tools or materials (spade, chainsaw, fillets)
  • become work fit and completed 20-odd full working days
  • learned techniques to complete elements of the task
  • learned to cooperate with others in a fast-paced and dynamic environment.

These accomplishments are worth noting on their own. Add in the drug and alcohol requirements, necessary emergency procedures, the need to report even minor incidents, and for a young person, not long out of school or changing career, a month is a milestone. Our suggestion is that an award may consist of no more than a certificate, awarded by say the crew boss at a tailgate meeting or at smoko.

One reason for the successful completion of a first month (or three months which will be the next stage) is likely to be support for our new employee from a mentor.

This mentor should ideally be from within the crew. We are aware that the abilities and skills of mentors are not within every crew member and it may be that no worker in a team demonstrates the characteristics of empathy and experience that will be required. Contractors do in fact bring in training capacity from outside the crew and that training includes, by default, mentoring. In any case, there is within this project the need to develop those skills both within and outside the crew.

We see, at completion of the project, a mentor in each crew who will complement training purchased or brought in.

Lastly, a system of recording progress is needed. Unit standards are the building blocks of qualifications but even they are broken down into small deliverables. These are called outcomes, and even these are broken down again into pieces of evidence of learning. When each small element of an outcome is achieved, we need to record it. The learning can then be completed in a logical sequence, on the job, as the worker progresses. The project will seek out and develop a suitable process.

So, in summary, the benefits:

  • Increased knowledge, at an earlier stage in employment, about Health and Safety, productivity, quality, environmental aims, and commercial aspects of the industry and in particular, the benefits of the task being learned to the industry.
  • A mentor for each employee from day 1, who can deliver basic Health and Safety, quality, environmental and productivity training and provide guidance, encouragement, and primary pastoral care.
  • A mentor who gains experience at this role in preparation for more complex training and assessing further on.
  • Planned and graduated recognition of progress from the first few weeks through to maturity as a competent employee able to take a full part in the industry. This may well include being a mentor in his/her own time.
  • A recording process that creates a transparent record of achievement.

We have secured funding from the Forest Growers Levy Trust to get this project underway, so expect to see progress reports.

 Source: NZ Logger, February 2021