First Cut – Industry investment
By Amie Silverwood
Dec. 9, 2013 - A couple months ago, Canadian Forest Industries had the opportunity to accompany Réjean Girard and his sons, logging contractors, to Finland for a ceremony to celebrate Ponsse’s 9,000th forest machine and the launch of the company’s newest harvester for the North American market (for the full article, go to page 10). It was an exciting opportunity to have a seat in a Scorpion harvester as it sliced through a well-manicured hill of trees leaving neatly stacked logs in its wake. A forwarder followed, climbing effortlessly over mounds of tree limbs and loading the logs into the trailer bound for the roadside.
At the headquarters, we met the Vidgrén family. Einari Vidgrén was born on a farm in Northern Finland in 1943. After the Second World War, when Finland won its independence, the country needed its young people to harvest the wood in the Northern forests to rebuild the country.
Einari wanted to build a machine that would be able to withstand the gruelling conditions the loggers worked in. He and his friend, Erkki Tarvainen built the first Ponsse machine together – a machine that is still on display at the Vidgrén
We toured the modern Ponsse factory in Northern Finland and then visited a Finnish logging site to watch the machines in use. But the event that was the most eye opening was a visit to a small vocational high school in Kuopio that has a partnership with the company. The forest machine manufacturer and the forestry school have joined in an effort to educate the next generation of foresters.
In 2012, Ponsse was looking for some space in which to hold a workshop that would be close to both the factory and its local customers. A local forestry school had plenty of space and was willing to come up with an arrangement well suited to the company. Ponsse opened the workshop and now has two professional mechanics working there full time to service local machines. The students work alongside the professional mechanics both in the workshop and in the field.
“For the school, the arrangement gives benefits in terms of quality of instruction and learning – working with real machines enhances learning,” explains Paula Oksman, the HR director at Ponsse.
Housing the professional workshop has other advantages for the school as well; the partnership enhances its image within the industry and provides additional funding for the programs. But the greatest advantage that comes from working so closely with an educational facility is that the graduates have much more experience with the machines themselves. These students have worked side by side with professional mechanics on the Ponsse equipment. They have harvested in the local forest on the company’s machines. Their experiences have provided direct feedback to the company and vice versa.
As I listened to the teacher present the history of the school and their vision for the future, a mechanic worked quietly in the background. Before long, a group of teenage boys had entered the workshop, milling around and waiting for their next class to begin. As young and inexperienced as they appeared, they represent something that Finland has managed to capture and that continues to evade us in Canada: a generation of skilled workers who have chosen to work in forestry.
We have a well-documented skills shortage in Canada. As we visit sawmills across the country, we’re told how difficult it is to recruit people whose skills are transferable to other industries. Many have left during the downturn and aren’t looking to come back.
What is required now is an investment in the next generation of skilled workers – this investment may require some out-of-the-box thinking to convince them to choose a career in forestry.
Amie Silverwood, Editor