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Transformation Plan with Expectations

Te Uru Rākau hosted an industry-wide workshop on 30 October 2020. The purpose of the workshop was to set the foundation for a successful collaboration between industry and government to support the development of the Forestry and Wood Processing Industry Transformation Plan (ITP); and identify opportunities and barriers to lifting productivity across the supply chain across short-, medium-, and long-term horizons. 

The objective of the workshop was to identify the key challenges facing the sector and opportunities to transform it across short-, medium-, and long-term in order to help inform the focus of the ITP. The Te Uru Rakau team collaborated with some 50 industry stakeholder participants including FICA and some robust discussion was had with the key takeaways from the workshop as a whole including:

  • Speaking with a unified voice and telling the story of wood — with 'one voice', the sector can improve public perception of forestry, bring awareness of the uses and benefits of wood, and help attract investment and talent to the workforce. 

  • Increasing the use of wood in the built environment — there is an opportunity to increase demand for structural timber and engineered wood products as the public and private sector look to reduce emissions in construction. 

  • Bio-services, bioenergy and bio-products— the Sector values working in an industry that contributes to a sustainable New Zealand. Forests offer bio-services (water, sedimentation, biodiversity, sequestration of carbon) and these can mitigate aspects of climate change. 

  • Long-term log supply

  • Availability of pruned logs 

  • Log supply contract structure 

  • Small forest owners 

  • Right tree, right place, right scale 

  • GMO/Gene Editing — genetic engineering presents an opportunity to create sterile plants to address the issues arising from the unwanted spread of trees e.g. 'wilding pines', increase productivity, create crops suited to specific purposes and improve the disease and climate resilience of trees. 

  • Commercialisation — New Zealand has a poor track record of commercialising new technologies. There is a gap in the R&D to commercialisation pathway in New Zealand that needs to be addressed to support more new technologies being developed here.

  • Building and attracting a skilled workforce — ensuring there is a skilled workforce to meet the needs of the industry today and into the future is critical. 

  • Government support and regulatory settings — continuing to attract investment into forestry and achieving the wider objectives of the ITP will require regulatory settings that are conducive to investment and stable through time. 

FICA applied for a seat at the table of the ITP Advisory Group given there was a strong focus on building and attracting a skilled workforce but understandably there were only so many seats and we were told we would be well connected with, and part of, the development process of the Plan.

But more disappointing has been the lack of engagement and the recent launch of the official Plan clearly mentions that the Group and Te Uru Rakau have spoken about the inclusion of workers - on page 15 of that document there was a list of forestry stakeholders with every expected acronym we recognise but not FICA. 

The fact that both the introduction by the Forestry Minister and the ITP Advisory Group Chair reference people and the workforce, but there is actually only one page out of a 110-page Plan that is dedicated to the workforce (and a few pictures) around the current environment, but nothing future forward is a bit of a double disappointment. 

I wonder how these advisory groups imagined the workforce of today is going to cope with the roles of tomorrow and whether the workforce has any idea what the future may look like. Most of them live in the current world where, as it should be, they are looking forward, with predictions having some long term goal that they can manage their business strategies based on. There appears little point in reviewing what’s been when the industry could be getting better outcomes by looking forward. Would it be valuable to share with the supply chain the wood flow statistics at a regional level which drive the harvest capacity and workforce requirement? Would discussions with forest owners around the predictions for harvest estimates and technology changes in more detail be valuable? This could make a huge difference to a contractor around their financial investment decisions, their increase in workforce and skills requirements with an expectation of business expansion. 

I believe the ITP must review its emphasis on the people - align it with the skills required and the harvest volume - and give the industry the right predictions on the future ahead. It’s all very good to promote increased valued and technology investments to process more logs domestically but how will that change the demands on infrastructure, logistics and truck drivers and markets for these value-added products, again with an expectation along the supply chain. 

While we collaborate to fundamentally design our forestry training and education programme that will deliver what we need or think we need, it seems quite realistic to take into account where the industry will be in five to ten years’ time. All roads lead to Rome so it doesn’t matter how something is done, but rather what the end result is. We need to get this right on all fronts as we have a workforce that is tired, feeling beaten up with a perceived shaky future, so the time is right to put some surety back. 

The NZ Forest Service - Te Uru Rakau and ITP Advisory Group are calling for submissions and yes we will be one of the first to get one in, as a diversity of opinions is what’s needed to get it right for everyone not just those that have been able to input in at the Advisory table. 

Check out the ITP plan here. However, unfortunately this process closes 30 September before this column comes out in NZ Logger but FICA has your back on this and we will clearly be expressing our desire to consider the people and the best outcomes for us all.

The focus of the ITPs is to support industries to transform from volume to value and to lift aggregate productivity to enable the scaling up of highly productive and internationally competitive industries. For the ITPs to be successful, they will need to be developed in partnership with industry as well as broader stakeholders and be founded on a robust evidence base.