After a long Covid break, the 2022 FTMA National Conference was bigger and better than ever with a welcome chance for fabricators to share and learn. By Kersten Gentle

The aim of the 2022 FTMA National Conference was to bring the industry back together for some interactive learning and networking on our first-ever weekend retreat. Run over 11–12 June, the event had an amazing buzz about it all weekend.

Red Activities Day is where everything commenced. Many conferences offer activities following the conference, but for FTMA members, the Red Activities Day, sponsored by Pryda, Meyer Timber and Vekta is all about bringing delegates together before the conference, to maximise networking.

Just shy of 100 delegates registered for golf, a jet ski safari, indoor skydiving/FREAK VR experience or kayaking to South Stradbroke Island. Queensland put on the weather and delegates, many with partners in tow, had an action-packed day, all in preparation for the official Ice-Breaker Evening, which saw a casino set up on the RACV Tennis Courts.

The Queensland weather tested us with an unusually cold night, but with fires, blankets, great food and drinks, it had the feel of an industry reunion. After years of being separated due to Covid, fabricators and suppliers were back together with laughter and chatter filling the air.


You wouldn’t have known it was a Sunday morning, with the 200 delegates arriving early to explore the 28 trade exhibits.

A lot of work had been put into the program ensuring a mix of speciality speakers and fabricator/supplier panels focusing on the key issues facing the industry, as the feedback from previous events had told us this talk-show style of questioning creates a more interactive conference and easier listening for delegates.

The program was targeted at fabricators – and we’ve since received feedback saying that every topic was on point for the sector and some noting it was the best conference they have ever attended. Much of what was discussed will appear in future podcasts or TTN stories; here are some highlights.

How to attract and retain great staff was an informative session run by Kelli McDougall, General Manager of AgriTalent.

Kelli explained that the average Australian business experiences approximately a 23% turnover annually, with some industries, such as the construction industry, having significantly higher turnover where the figures can exceed 58%.

If we conservatively assume an annual turnover of 30% for our industry and use the figure of 67,000 people employed in our industry, we could be potentially losing 20,100 people per annum from the forest and wood products industry.

There is always a debate as to what the actual costs are to a business every time you lose an employee. Some estimates place the total economic cost of replacing staff members at two times their salary over the life of their replacement.

Kelli went through the employee turnover costs, as every time you lose an employee, your business suffers financially. She outlined common costs such as:

  • Cost to hire (advertising, interviewing, screening, due diligence etc);
  • Training and management time to undertake induction;
  • Lost productivity as a new person may take one to two years to reach the full productivity of an existing worker;
  • Lost engagement; and
  • Customer service issues and errors.

Even if we are drastically more conservative and assume a direct cost of $10,000 per employee, and we multiply that by the turnover in our industry per annum, the forest and wood products industry could be losing in excess of $211 million in turnover costs alone.

So how do we recruit the right people, and retain their services? It’s little things such as having a website, as there is a good chance someone is going to Google your business before they apply to find out more about you. If you don’t have a website, you can be seen as a fake business.

What is your employer value proposition? Do you even have one? We are currently in the tightest employment market in 50 years, so as a business, you must do more than just advertise on Seek.

Kelli finished her session focusing on retention strategies such as onboarding and orientation, mentorship programs, employee compensation, perks, wellness offerings, communication, training and development, work-life balance and flexible work arrangements.

Following Kelli, we had our first fabricator panel exploring the programs fabricators have put in place to attract new workers and retain those currently employed. It was so refreshing hearing fabricators talk about Employee Wellness Programs and their focus on creating the right workplace culture. This isn’t something that just happens but requires time. No matter whether you are a large or small employer, it takes time to work with your employees to find out how they are travelling and what their needs are.

FTMA is passionate about addressing safety and lifting safety standards within the sector and we’re excited to join forces with our sister Association from across the ditch, FTMA NZ who has taken the lead with an exciting new Safety SOP Video program for respective FTMA Members.

FTMA NZ Executive Officer Peter Carruthers joined me to showcase the exciting new videos which will allow members to access professional videos for safety inductions created by Shutterspeed.

These universal safety videos are like none other with the FTMA Safety Essentials Pack breaking down the three key safety issues, including:

  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Safe Manual Handling Techniques
  • Lockout & tag out procedure

On top of this, the safety videos will cover rolling, pressing, pneumatic fasteners and cutting techniques on a variety of machinery.

FTMA NZ will continue to work on the suite of videos with Shutterspeed and the program will officially be launched later in the year.

One of the key sessions was Knowledge is power, so what do you need to know? which was a facilitated session run by IndustryEdge’s Tim Woods.

Conference delegates discussed the information needs of the supply chain and what fabricators wanted or needed to know for the sector which is the largest single user of sawn wood in Australia.

Initially we heard from a small group of people actively engaged in the supply chain: a timber supplier, a nailplate provider, a fabricator, an automation expert and our Association. Each told us what information they needed to make important decisions that would support the fabrication sector and therefore the supply chain and its development. Their contributions were a primer as what we really wanted to know was what fabricators need to make better business decisions, and what information the supply chain needs about fabricators.

Tim asked fabricators in the audience the open question: What information do you and the supply chain need about your sector?

Over 35 sheets of paper holding about 130 separate needs statements were collected, some very detailed, others not so much. Tim has collated every statement and categorised them and the data showed we will need more than one approach to tackle this information.

There is a need for some externally focused research (e.g. on builders, housing types, land releases and so on) and the development of a report that perhaps is updated each quarter or year, to provide an ongoing series of advice to the sector.

Most of all however, there is a need to gather industry information from fabricators themselves to provide measures that allow for benchmarking and provide development guidance, so stay tuned, as there will be some exciting work on this in the future for the sector.


Our keynote speaker for the conference was Luke Mathers who spent over an hour talking to delegates about ways to RESET Stress and use it as a superpower.

FTMA wanted a keynote speaker who understood first-hand the stress involved in running a family-owned business. As one of the original directors of Specsavers in Australia, Luke understands what it takes to operate under pressure situations and wow, did he deliver.

Not only did Luke turn up on the Sunday to present, but he attended the Ice-Breaker on the Saturday night so he could meet delegates and talk to them about the stresses they are dealing with on a daily basis.

Luke has written a fabulous book titled, Stress Teflon, which FTMA has purchased to send out a copy for every member with your 2022/23 membership certificates.

Instead of talking about what Luke said at the conference, I’d like to talk about the real changes which have resulted from my involvement with Luke. I read this book before the conference and since the conference I have read his two other books and I actually believe I have achieved Stress Teflon.

I’m a bit of a hot head, or as Luke would say, I use my ‘old brain’ a fair bit, but after reading the book, I have realised that my ‘new brain’ has the ability to reassess the situation and settle down the anger or stress.

Scott and Nikita are looking at me wondering where the real Kersten is, as I no longer stress about issues I can’t change. I have to be honest and say it feels great.

While members will be sent the book when they renew their membership, I encourage readers to visit where they can download a copy of this and his other book, RESET.

We can all do with some less stress in our lives, and we believe the techniques Luke provided delegates at the conference will help them make some real changes in their workplace to reduce stress.

After a rewarding day of learning and sharing our issues – with a few laughs along the way – it was time for the jungle-themed dinner, including the announcement of FTMA’s most prestigious award.


FTMA Australia has always passionately celebrated the outstanding people within our industry, with our highest honour being the prestigious Clive Martella Service to Industry Award.

Clive Martella was an FTMA Board Member and Director of MB Prefab Framing in Geelong (now part of Big River Group). He was down to earth, funny, straight up, hardworking and such an honest person.

Clive was an essential person within the FTMA Board, being a founding director and a key player in setting up the National Association. Whether it was technical, production or business issues, Clive was always willing to support the association and fabricators and he was always willing to share information to improve the standards of the industry and help his competitors.

Sadly, Clive Thomas Martella passed away on 28 August, 2016 at the young age of 62, after a short but courageous battle with cancer, leaving behind his beloved wife Ruth and three adult children, Catherine, Treina and Clive Jnr.

The criteria for the award named in his honour is simply to showcase someone who goes out of their way to help people and businesses within the industry. Someone who is honest and committed to seeing the national frame and truss industry innovate and grow and someone who has, themselves, made a great commitment to our industry, as this is who Clive was.

A group of four industry leaders who were all Clive’s friends, Michael Read (Keith Timber & Hardware), Phil Ladson (former FTMA Director), Steve Collier (TimberTruss) and Phil McCormack (McCormacks Australia) are our selection committee.

The inaugural recipient of the Award presented in 2017 was Reg Owen of Owentruss and in 2019 Jim Cheney of Westruss received the award. 2022 was a tight contest with some outstanding nominations received. The runner-up for this year’s Award is the impressive Bob Lang of Langs Building Supplies, who has made huge contributions to the frame and truss industry for many decades.

The winner of the 2022 Clive Martella Service to Industry Award was Tom Donohue from Australian Timber & Trusses on the Gold Coast.

Tom Donohue began working in the industry at Wilkinson’s in 1970 and within eight years, he started his own Frame & Truss business with business partner, Leon Hill. The business was initially called Tom’s Trusses before being renamed Australian Timber & Trusses (ATT) a few years later and they are still based on the Gold Coast.

In the 1970s, Tom was heavily involved in the Gang Nails EqA System. Tom promoted this system to other fabricators for accurate quoting, plant scheduling, output monitoring, employee incentives and what-if scenarios for new equipment purchases and cost monitoring.

By the early 1980s, this information was used for benchmarking against three other fabrication companies in different markets who were using different equipment. This was extremely beneficial to all fabricators, as everyone learnt where improvements could be made from sawing, pressing, storage, loading and delivery, and we heard today, how important this still is today.

Tom was instrumental in having the first six-bladed computerised saws made and put into production, so that improvements could be made before the machine was released to other fabricators. Tom was always happy to be the guinea pig to maximise benefits for the whole industry.

In the 2000s, a similar project was instigated in the pressing area, with the development of a fully computerised multi-press head jig.

Throughout the years, Kersten was often told that no-one knows costs like Tom and many younger people in the industry say that Tom was someone they idolised and learnt so much from. Whether it was his articles in TTN or presentations at Frame Australia conferences, Tom was always willing to share his knowledge, in the hope of building a stronger industry.

Tom built his business from the ground up and today the company employs over 100 locals. Tom has always been a voice for the industry and was happy to put his hand up to serve on many committees in his pursuit of building a stronger industry.

He was chairman of the Gold Coast Timber Association for six years in the 1980s, was vice-Chairman of the Queensland Timber Board for five years and in the 1990s was President of the Brisbane Hoo Hoo Club (1994-96) and in 1996-97, he even served as JIV President.

Tom’s support goes beyond the industry and he has passionately supported the Ronald McDonald House in Brisbane, where he is a major sponsor. He has also been a major sponsor of the Life Education Centre on the Gold Coast and is a sponsor of various Gold Coast soccer Clubs.

Tom’s wife Terri has always been right by his side throughout the journey, as have his children Coby and Shaun, with Shaun joining the business 28 years ago and working his way up to production manager.

Above: Tom Donohue’s Facebook speech.

Unfortunately, Tom couldn’t be present to accept his award due to ill health. Clive’s wife Ruth and daughter Treina presented Tom’s award to Tom’s son Shaun and daughter-in-law Deanna, but you can see Tom’s acceptance speech on the FTMA Facebook page.


For all its length, this report doesn’t come close to covering off the whole of the conference. Many more important topics were canvassed, members came together to raise much-needed funds for mental health support in the industry and there was fun silliness, too, when pasta and marshmallows were used to test structural design strengths at the dinner.

All of this was made possible through the support of members and in particular our sponsors. FTMA thanks:

Gold Sponsors: MiTek, Multinail and Pryda.

Silver Sponsors: AB Phillips, AKD, Australian Panel Products, Meyer Timber, Timberlink Australia, Vekta and Wespine.

Bronze Sponsors: Bliss & Reels, Combilift, Daw Trading, Dindas, Hundegger, Hyne Timber, Independent Hardware Group, McCormacks Australia, OneFortyOne, Pinewood Products, Programmed Timber Supplies, Roadpod, Stora Enso, Tilling, VIDA and VTW.

Conference Sponsors: Carbon Warrior, First Super, ForestWorks, Mates in Construction, Responsible Wood, TABMA Australia, Timber Framing Collective, Timber Training Creswick and WoodSolutions.

The aim of the 2022 FTMA National Conference – Weekend Retreat was to bring the industry back together. The networking and learning made for an awesome weekend with outstanding feedback from all attendees.

Now for the planning to start for our 2024 National Conference!

Main Image: Shaun Donohue of Australian Timber & Trusses with dad Tom’s 2022 Clive Martella Service to Industry Award, Treina Martella, Ruth Martella and Phil McCormack of McCormacks Australia. Photo courtesy FTMA.