Over the past year, I have spoken to dozens of professionals involved with the forest contracting industry, and there are some very clear messages that are shared by all of them. One of the strongest messages relates to encouraging young operators into the sector: currently, there are not enough, and there is insufficient provision in the current structure to encourage them without significant cost.
Currently, there are very few training opportunities for operators beyond one College in Scotland and general on-the-job training. A recently launched apprenticeship scheme by the Forestry Commission directs entrants into forestry business areas for harvesting and other operations; but the first problem remains attracting and recruiting new entrants.
The second problem is training and retaining the young entrants, as many contractors will tell you training-up young operators who are either straight out of school or coming from other industries costs you money, if you invest appropriately in their training and professional development. Bringing young operators to sites that train them in a skilled profession means dedicating resources; most contractors say that it costs them in productivity, time and, therefore, money. However, there is no provision in any contract, even Forestry Commission contracts for training and development of young operators, which allows for training-related resources to be taken into account during the tendering and procurement process. Such a step would benefit and strength the wider forestry sector.
Beyond training, retention of young operators after they have achieved their industry qualifications is difficult. A contractor may invest two years in training a young operator paying for all their industry tickets and time to develop them as professionals, only for the operator to leave to work for someone else or leave the industry completely for more stable, less physical and more sociable work. There is currently no contractual standard service agreement provision, as there are in other industries that honour investment and training, for the operatior to be required to remain with the company after they have been fully trained. Would this be a good idea? Is it logical or rational: would you, as a young trainee, want to sign a three or four-year contract for work on the agreement for full professional development?
Finally, how might the industry attract young people into forestry operations out with the common paths of family and rural economy association? If you were interested in a forestry operational career path, how do you find information and plot that path? Who do you speak to?
Current work and next steps for Scotland
- At the end of October, the Scottish Forestry Service Providers survey closed and preliminary results are currently being analysed to identify business status and training needs.
- Initial results from the forest service providers survey showed that most forestry contractors preferred learning through on-site training, peer-to-peer advice and external experts. However online learning and digital platforms scored rather low with only a small percentage preferring to learn in this manner. Cost and time are the most significant barriers to learning but one area that was also identified as being an important barrier was access to learning resources and lack of learning centres that offer more specific guidance.
- The second FOBIA Scottish Steering Group meeting was held at Inverness College with industry representatives. Preliminary results of the survey were presented to the Group, and there was further discussion about forestry contracting needs in Scotland.
- Interviews with contractors and forestry professionals associated with contractors in the supply chain continue to be interviewed. These interviews will be transcribed and analysed later in November.
- Design and development of online content for the FOBIA platform is in progress and will continue to be developed over the next few months inline with results from the interviews and the survey. It is hoped these will provide information on contractors’ training needs and preferred methods of learning.
Text: Euan Bowditch, IC-UHI