Our challenges to plant 1 billion trees

Tuesday 5 Feb 2019

OPINION: by Judith Collins Head of Te Uru Rakau- Lately, there's been a number of articles about forestry and the need for more planters. At Te Uru Rakau (Forestry New Zealand), we've subsequently received enquiries from people interested in planting, which is encouraging.

We are not shying away from the fact that labour is a challenge for the forestry industry.

But where there are challenges, lie opportunities. Forestry is one of this country's most important industries. We have an opportunity with the government's renewed focus on forestry and the goal to plant one billion trees by 2028, to build on this and create a sustainable sector that offers real opportunities in the regions – both through job creation and economic growth.

One of the major aims of the One Billion Trees Programme is to create employment opportunities, particularly in the regions.

Currently, around 1000 workers are working in the forest growing industry each year. As the programme ramps-up and the planting rate increases, we're estimating the number of workers will need to nearly double by 2023 to support tree planting, nursery production, logistics and administration.

Te Uru Rakau is working alongside the industry and other government agencies to ensure there's sufficient labour for the upcoming planting season.

Part of this is about understanding what the workforce needs to look like. A survey of the industry is underway which will provide better data about the labour needs in the short term.

During 2019, Te Uru Rakau will be working closely with the industry, landowners and other key stakeholders to help set the strategic direction for forests and forestry over coming decades. One element of this work will be a multi-year plan to attract, develop and retain the workforce needed to create the conditions for a sustainable sector that has momentum to grow and adapt.

We are currently focused on working with the industry to ensure they are able to provide the opportunities for low-skilled workers so they're ready for the upcoming planting season, and helping employers to understand how to attract and retain workers by ensuring fair and safe employment conditions and clear career pathways.

We've held well-attended forestry employer information sessions throughout the country that were run by FICA, with Work and Income, Immigration NZ and the MBIE labour inspectorate all working together.

In the longer term, we are looking at how the sector can create opportunities for those not currently in employment to develop a career in the industry.

Part of the issue is around seasonality of jobs. Planting only occurs in the winter months, so the sector needs to be looking at other opportunities to create sustainable employment, particularly for young people who are either unemployed or not receiving education or training. This involves working with other agencies to ensure vocational training systems supports the needs of the forestry sector.

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(Julie Collins is Head of Te Uru Rakau, Forestry New Zealand).

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