The TTIA boasts a broad membership base, but at its heart it remains a grassroots organisation, dedicated to the timber industry and the people who make it thrive.
Over the past 25 years, Timber Trade Industrial Association (TTIA) CEO Brian Beecroft has seen a lot of changes in the timber industry. By working closely with his broad membership, Beecroft has seen the industry face many challenges and, for many of his members – particularly those who own small to medium sized business – times have become particularly challenging of late.
“It’s become harder to attract staff to the industry,” he says. “There are not a lot of people who are wanting to join the industry, so the challenge is to both attract and maintain staff and provide a rewarding career path.
“In terms of succession planning, many owners no longer have the luxury of handing down their business to their son or daughter because the future prospects at times seem daunting. Small business owners in the timber industry appear to be a diminishing breed, especially in rural areas. It is apparent that a lot of business owners’ children are less inclined to follow on in that business. The family nature of the industry is changing.”
Cutbacks to resources and the advancement of technology and machinery have also affected TTIA members, together with the political issues surrounding the use of timber as a building product.
“Selling the idea that timber is an environmentally friendly product is always a challenge for the industry when radical green groups distort the facts and science that support the industry,” Beecroft says. “Everyone wants timber and its associated products, but they don’t want to accept that it comes from an actual forest.”
The TTIA has approximately 500 members, most of whom are small to medium sized businesses.
“Membership numbers are significant because of the fact that people need access to practical industrial relations back-up, but the difference with us is that a lot of our members are smaller family operations – many have fewer than 10 employees,” Beecroft says. “Also, TTIA is unique in the sense that all our eggs aren’t in one basket – we’re spread across a lot of sectors, from harvesting and milling to merchants, frame and truss operators and tree contractors.
One of the key aspects Beecroft is most proud of is that TTIA punches well above its weight. “We’ve only got five staff, and our asset base isn’t large or based on a property or bank portfolio, as we’re a non-profit association,” he says.
The difficulty for Beecroft and his staff is often the distance that lies between themselves and their members.
“We don’t have the resources to set up offices in every state,” Beecroft says. “So there’s a lot of travelling – anyone who works for us is always on the road and needs to be accessible to members at short notice.”
In recent years, in order to remain competitive with other associations, the TTIA has taken significant strides in building up a business partner base of additional services and discounts to add greater value to membership.
“Once we were pure bread-and-butter industrial relations, HR, workplace health and safety,” Beecroft says. “But as other associations have become involved in our core business areas, we’ve had to add more value.”
The association now additionally offers member discounts in recruitment services, drug and alcohol testing, fuel, protective clothing, electricity, telecommunications, freight forwarding and business insurances.
However, it is workplace health and safety that has become a key part of the association’s business, including risk assessments, safety auditing and safety management systems.
“We’re fairly unique in that we have in-house staff who specialise in the timber industry and we don’t contract out our key services to outside bodies.” Beecroft says. “Our staff are familiar with the machinery, with the people and the legislation that governs our industry.”
It’s the people that have kept Beecroft at the TTIA for 25 years – he maintains an excellent relationship with his members, who he holds in high regard.
“The stand-out aspect about the TTIA membership is that they are very genuine, good people,” Beecroft says. “They’re not hard to represent or work with. There is a lot of passion among these people.
“In this industry, when you meet the business owner, you meet the husband and the wife, and often the family. It’s almost like having an extended family.”
While his extended family may be facing some tough challenges today, Beecroft isn’t planning on going anywhere, sure that the industry will survive, be resilient and thrive well into the future.
“I think the timber industry, based on the demand for our product, should have a solid and ongoing future,” he says. “But our governments have to show more support, especially for our rural-based businesses.”