Swedish timber harvesting contractors face challenges in terms of recruitment and training needs. Digital solutions may well be a key for a brighter future.
Johan Dietrichson from the Swedish Association of Forestry Contractors knows the business environment within timber harvesting in Sweden. The contractors, especially in northern parts of the country, depend on large forest companies which usually make contracts with harvesting contractors for one to three years.
A typical timber harvesting business is run by four persons with a harvester and a forwarder. A common set up is also one operator with a harvester. But larger businesses exist, too, in a range of 10-30 machine operators.
Additional training crucial for staying in business
Timber harvesting enterprises lack skilled personnel these days. The requirement level for the operators has risen during the past years and it is hard to find competent machine operators. For example, there are environmental requirements, such as FFC and PEFC certificates, that need to be fulfilled. This means there is a continuous need for further education and training of forest contractors. Training packages are expensive and time consuming which does not encourage for further education.
– This has led to a situation where forest machine operators leave the profession and move to mining industry, instead.
Constant changes within forest industry have led to increased outsourcing to contractors. Even forest planning – for which you need to study three years at the university level – can be outsourced to forest contractors. Again, finding professionals with the required skill set is an obstacle.
Another major challenge is the low profitability of small harvesting businesses. In the growing global competition, the big forest companies reduce their costs which has an impact on the profit timber harvesting entrepreneurs make. Subsequently, you need to have business knowledge to succeed in the competitive business environment.
Climate change brings major challenges
Due to climate change, Swedish winters are wet and ground frost is no longer regular. Harvesting has traditionally been done during winter months, to cause as little damage to soil as possible. However, now the soil is wet and soft during winter months. The best time to harvest from the environmental and practical point of view is September, when the soil is dry. However, the forest industry does not purchase timber at that time.
With digital solutions towards vibrant harvesting businesses
According to Johan Dietrichson, digital solutions offer excellent opportunities for overcoming the current challenges.
– We need to develop services that make entrepreneurs more independent from the big forest companies. The small enterprises could even provide services together, and deliver round wood directly to industries without the big company involvement. With the help of digital tools, we can boost interaction within the harvesting community, share best practices, trade machinery, etc. This all adds to the vitality of the business.
Possibilities provided by digital tools are wide-ranging. Education and training could be digitally arranged and more cost effective than now. On-line training and shared portals save time; travelling to training sessions would no longer be necessary.
Johan Dietrichson also notes that forestry business needs a boost to its image.
– It is a significant industry. People are somewhat alienated from the forest and working in forest is not seen as an attractive career. We need active footwork to get more trained professionals into the field.
FOBIA for sharing knowledge and practices
Johan Dietrichson sees that a platform developed in FOBIA could act as a central hub for forestry education available in Sweden.
– I look forward to joining forces and developing a digital platform where entrepreneurs can interact, and this service could work across borders. It could be a bit like social media, we’ll see how it turns out!
The Swedish Association of Forestry Contractors aims to improve the professional skills of its members, provide training, education and financial consulting when investing, say, in new machinery.
– The project supports our organisation’s goals. In FOBIA we bring insight into Swedish forest entrepreneurs’ business environment and can test the forthcoming digital solutions with our members.
Text: Anu Ruusila/Cordial Communications Oy