Encouraging more young people into the industry is crucial to its survival – but where to start?

Unlike many other more glamorous industries, the timber industry is not often considered as a career option for young people today. But the survival of the industry depends upon young people – the fresh recruits of today could well be the industry leaders of tomorrow. So don’t many young people see it as a viable career choice?

“One clear reason is they don’t know what is in the industry and they aren’t aware of the career paths that are available,” says June Dunleavy, general manager, TABMA Training. “They might think, I’m good with my hands and with tools, I want to be an apprentice carpenter. It’s really easy to dimension what that role is all about. But they don’t see something like the frame and truss sector as being a viable career path.

“But if you went on to do a traineeship in estimating and detailing, not only would you get to use computers and computer-aided design software, your attention to detail, your costing, your ability to design timber structures for residential and commercial, you get to use a lot of good skills that a lot of these kids would have. But they don’t know about it – there is a huge communication and awareness gap there.”

Dunleavy believes that the best way to address this gap is by starting at school. For instance, woodworking teachers could educate their students about the many different career paths that are available in the timber industry – not just carpentry.

“We could educate the Year 10, 11 and 12s that there are career pathways and that if they started in another area in the timber industru they could still potentially go on and become a carpenter,” Dunleavy says. “But at the end of the day, carpenters wear out – it’s a very physical job. They often get to mid-40s and they want to get off the tools. So an alternative pathway is for experienced carpenters to do estimating and detailing, because they can already read plans, they can already design timber structures and they have an idea of the costings involved.”

TABMA Training

TABMA Training (originally known as FITEC Australia) is a national training provider that was formed back in 1998. They deliver nationally recognised vocational qualifications and a range of short course training across all sectors of the forest and timber industry, including sales, warehousing, logistics, business, management, forklift licensing and chainsaw skills.

“Basically it was an RTO [registered training organisation] that was specifically set up for the forest and timber industry,” Dunleavy says. “It specialises in qualifications such as forest growing and management, timber manufactured products, sawmilling, frame and truss, harvesting and haulage and forest operations. Some of the clients we have are HQ Plantations and Hyne Timber, and we’re now rolling out a program for existing workers for Parkside. We do a lot of work with companies like Parkside and Hudsons – they’re the clients that are really committed to taking on trainees, and that’s how they’re growing their business.”

It’s not just for trainees and apprentices who are new to the industry – TABMA Training also offers training for existing employees.

“The Palaszczuk government in Queensland has offered some very good incentives for organisations, and not only to put on new trainees – as of January 1 they have also opened it up to upskilling existing workers,” Dunleavy says. “That allows organisations – particularly in the timber industry where we focus a lot of our efforts – to upskill their existing workers. And that’s what we’re doing with Parkside – we’re doing training in sawmilling, timber merchandising and Certificate 3 in business.”

Another example of the work that TABMA Training has done to upskill existing workers is at ITI Australia.

“A couple of years ago Michael Shadbolt [ITI director] came to me,” Dunleavy says. “He and his father Paul [managing director] wanted to replicate a cadetship-type program. So they recruited 16 trainees to ITI spread across the country, and the main purpose of this cadetship program was to skill them up in the timber industry. But it was also to develop this group of young people coming through so that ITI could have future leaders, managers and sales reps – specialists in their business.

“We customised a program to suit the business. We started off doing a Certificate 3 in timber merchandising, which they all successfully completed, and out of the 16, 13 went on to do a dual Certificate 4 in leadership and management and a Certificate 4 in business-to-business sales. Over that two year period we retained all of them and out of the 13, half of them have been earmarked for future supervisory and sale rep positions within the company, which was a great result. They got free qualifications, they’ve been upskilled, they’ve got a lot more knowledge about the industry and they’ve been identified as future leaders in that business. It’s a tremendous win-win for ITI.”

Success stories

Dunleavy has seen many success stories during her time at TABMA Training, including the youngest ever student to complete a Certificate 3 in frame and truss design and manufacture.

“He’s a young man who works for his father’s business,” she says. “He was 16 when he completed his Certificate 3 and he is now doing his Certificate 4 in frame and truss design. He is already doing estimating and detailing for his father’s business in Tamworth – he’ a real success story.”

TABMA generally has about a 95 percent success completion rate for their qualifications. Trainees have been employed by their host, then they’ve gone on to complete their certificate and then they’ve remained in that employment. It’s by encouraging young people to enter the industry in this manner and then offering them pathways to succeed that will guarantee a healthy future for the timber industry.

“The timber industry has an ageing population – a lot of workers are 50-plus,” Dunleavy says. “So if employers in this industry don’t look at the future, then they’re going to find that what’s happened to the frame and truss sector – where there is an absolute critical shortage of estimators and detailers – will happen to them. They’re going to have to look at getting unskilled workers in or send work offshore to Asia. They won’t be able to grow their business or keep up with demand.”

Dunleavy believes that it will require a concerted effort from people in the timber industry to ensure young people continue to have attractive employment opportunities in the timber industry, and to ensure that the message is getting out there that the timber industry is a fantastic career pathway to follow.

“Not all young people are going to go on to university,” she says. “And the big difference is, when you finish university you come out with a massive bill at the end of it, whereas if you go down the traineeship path, you come out with a qualification that can lead to further studies and you’re also employed – there is a huge difference there.”

For more information head to tabmatraining.edu.au