Marlborough Forest Industry Association launches new fund to attract young workers

Forestry is a growth industry in Marlborough but companies are struggling to find young workers.

Forestry is a growth industry in Marlborough but companies are struggling to find young workers.

Keeping and attracting young people to live and work in Marlborough is a key issue for the region. Reporter Oliver Lewis looks at how forestry companies are helping young workers into the industry.

Money may not grow on trees, but a new initiative helping young forestry workers and those looking to get into the industry will take away some of the costs.

The Marlborough Forest Industry Association's Vocational Training Assistance fund aims to attract more young people and advance their career prospects in the industry.

The forestry estate in Marlborough is between 75,000 and 80,000 hectares.

The forestry estate in Marlborough is between 75,000 and 80,000 hectares.

Forestry is growing in Marlborough, it frequently ranks as one of the main contributors to regional GDP, and directly employs up to 900 people. However, attracting young people is a challenge.

The associations hopes the new fund, the first of its kind in Marlborough, will help attract and retain people in the sector, by paying for things like course costs, transport and accommodation for study.

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MFIA executive officer Vern Harris said there was a number of reasons why the industry was struggling to recruit young workers, pointing to the perception the industry was dangerous as an example.

Forestry was also competing against sectors like construction, mining and roading for workers; Harris also thought younger people were being pushed more towards universities than the trades.

Anyone could apply for assistance and the association was being deliberately flexible as to what it would fund, be it something like a machine operations course or books for study.

Harris said one example of what the fund could be used for was bringing a harvester simulator to Marlborough, so groups of people could train on the machine before advancing to the real thing.

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The only caveat was applicants had to be living in Marlborough, or have immediate family in the region, as the purpose of the scheme was to bolster the industry in Marlborough, he said.

"Hopefully it will assist young people to think forestry could be a good career option, and secondly it will enable youngsters already in the industry to improve their skills."

The association agreed to implement the Vocational Training Assistance programme at its annual general meeting last year. It was made possible by a sizeable donation by Flight Forestry, Harris said.

MFIA chairman Brendon Whitley, who worked for Nelson Forests, said it was very difficult to attract younger workers. He fully supported the new fund, saying it would help advertise opportunities within forestry.

"All around New Zealand there is a significant skills shortage in all facets of forestry, so if we can get workers in early, and get them set-up and hopefully retain them in forestry that would be a good thing," he said.

Applications for the Vocational Training Assistance fund open in August.

 - The Marlborough Express


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