Practical safety initiative focused on transformational change

Published: Aug 5, 2019 · Updated: Dec 1, 2020

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  • Gisborne/Tairāwhiti

Steve Beach and Henry Koia spent five years “chipping away” at the forestry industry to gain support for an on-the-job forestry training model with a major focus on health and safety, and the principles of Kaupapa Māori.

Two ManaiaSAFE students grade a log.

ManaiaSAFE students learn a full-range of forestry skills, including grading logs.

Mr Beach said without the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), the ManaiaSAFE Forestry School pilot would never have got off the ground.

“It’s so important that it did. We developed the model on the smell of an oily rag because of our belief that the forest industry was in need of transformational change. This industry requires more people, but we need to ensure that all new entrants are adequately armed with the foundation skills and knowledge to keep themselves safe before entering a commercial forestry operation. Our whanau need to get home to their families every day”.

The PGF grant of just over $300,000 enabled the 20-week pilot to be run, with the first group of trainees graduating in May. The programme is now continuing, with a second intake due to begin training in June.

Tui Nikora-Whiting is also glad the Tairāwhiti based project got a kick-start.

The only female learner among 11 trainees on the pilot programme, she now has a permanent job in logging.

“I can see this school really making a difference to this area.

“People around here need opportunities; the kids need opportunities. Some get to about 14 years old and they need to be doing practical things. There was a 16-year-old on our course – he had only been going to school to eat his lunch and now he’s got his ticket and he’s loving his job. I can see this school feeding staff into every company around Gisborne.”

The school takes trainees through 20 weeks of training, equipping them with health and safety knowledge, job skills, and ultimately getting them ready for permanent employment. Of the initial pilot programme, seven of the graduates are now in work and one has entered into further training.

The full cost of the pilot was $840,000, with the additional funding coming from the Eastland Community Trust, the Forest Growers Levy Trust and the Eastern Institute of Technology.

Steve Beach’s Gisborne-based Train Me Quality Services delivers the programme in conjunction with the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT), which provides the NZQA academic structure. Graduates from the pilot programme attained the NZQA Certificate in Forest Harvesting Operations at Level 3. The upcoming course will aim to include Level 4 programmes.

Forestry is a key sector in Tairāwhiti, but there’s a shortage of skilled workers in the region. The model, which also supports the Government’s One Billion Trees programme, is designed to bridge the gap between the classroom and commercial sites by delivering a specifically designed training programme within a controlled, commercial environment.

The results of the pilot have been independently evaluated with the goal for it to form the basis for training courses in other parts of the country with similar forestry skills shortages.

Mr Beach, who has 19 years’ experience in the forestry sector, says the more common forestry training model often sees students move from the classroom to a full-pace commercial logging crew with limited practical experience.

“This can lead to disengagement and potential health and safety risks,” he says.

“Our programme bridges the gap between the classroom and commercial sites by delivering a specifically designed training programme within a controlled, commercial environment.

“There are a lot of opportunities in forestry in this region, but you need to have a social licence to operate – and that means it needs to be safe. We set up a cable harvesting operation, to deliver learning outcomes without the normal productivity pressures of a commercial crew. Local forestry company, Ernslaw One Ltd, gave us the opportunity to set up the training crew within their estateWe grabbed it with both hands. They set high standards for their contractors, and we are proud to have met them prior to the commencement of harvesting.”

“EIT had tried to run forestry programmes before, but there was never enough uptake. We have 27 applications already for the 11 places on our next programme, and that’s without advertising.”

The ManaiaSAFE kaupapa has also attracted skilled mentors who deliver the practical training with a Tuakana-Teina approach. “Our team has easily over 100 years of combined experience that is made available to our trainees. We have robust systems and practices in place that promote the application of tikanga throughout our business, and we encourage a culture of wellness amongst our crew and whanau which trainees become a part of.”

“One of our pilot trainees came from a fisheries role and one from school, but the others were all on Jobseekers benefits, and all our graduates are now employed or in further training,” says Mr Beach.

“We don’t just train people, we build people and provide pastoral care to support their wellbeing. We give them the opportunity to build mana for themselves and their significant others”.

Tui Nikora-Whiting says the programme absolutely delivers on those commitments.

“Before I did this, I was in the pits really,” she says. “It has uplifted me, so much that I just want to keep going and going. I only got about 24 credits at school and this is the first time in my life I have been really proud of myself. My parents and my kids came to my graduation. My grandfather worked for DoC and I knew doing this would make him proud of me.”

The Te Aitanaga a Mahaki iwi has been strongly supportive of the programme.

Ms Nikora-Whiting says the Kaupapa Māori values-based focus was a fundamental part of the learning experience.

“The iwi support has been great, being welcomed with a karakia was great. I was brought up on the marae. I’m fluent in Te Reo and it’s good to see that happening in this industry. The school is bloody awesome. They really go the extra mile. It was about building us as people, about getting us organised. I used to go to work and go home and that was it, but they encourage you to do more. I’m starting twilight netball - I’m getting a life.”

Tutor and mentor Steve Maynard has ten years’ experience in the sector and says the focus on helping learners develop forestry skills and safety skills in a controlled workplace environment was what encouraged him to apply for a role with the ManaiaSAFE School.

“I’ve worked on a lot of crews and I’ve experienced a couple of accidents, not to me personally, but being there, out in the bush, going to help in the aftermath. I know what it’s like.

“I teach all the chainsaw work. It took our pilot group a bit of time to get used to the technology, but it made me feel really good to see them get their tickets, know they are passionate about health and safety and see them enjoying their jobs

“Forestry is a tight-knit community. We talk among ourselves and we’ll talk about whether someone is safe to work with or not. It makes me feel good that people are going to be talking about our graduates as skilled people who are safe to work with.”

Steve Beach says providing opportunities for local people was a key driver in developing the programme. He quit his “six-figure salary” to focus on developing the programme and sold the family home to help fund that process. “This was particularly gutting for me. When my wife and I bought the home 15 or so years ago I made a commitment not to ever sell it, and breaking my word has been the single most distressing part of our journey”.

“I’m a smalltown boy from Ruatoria,” he says. I have seen parts of our community struggle. People round here need opportunities, they need hope, especially our young people. We need to provide bridges for our young people.

“The funding enabled us to build a bridge,” says Mr Beach.

“Though we achieved some great outcomes in people development, training and work placements, the star of the pilot was obtaining the hard and soft data required to figure out how we attract people to the industry, train them to be work-ready, develop their competence, and retain them in the industry over a lengthy career and ensure others are coming through behind them. Armed with these learnings we can now review our business model and work towards scaling up our impact.”

Ms Nikora-Whiting says she is loving her new career and has her sights set on management and her own business in the future.

“I’m so glad I got this opportunity. I’m 29 and I’d never done an outdoor job before and people said ‘you’ll never stick it’ but the training was so good and so supportive and we all really wanted this, so we helped one another.

“My partner has been in forestry a long time and now we have plans between us to run our own crew one day. He’s got more experience and more tickets than me, but I’m focusing on getting further qualifications and the ManaiaSAFE School team is helping me with that. We’ve got a dream of big careers in this industry and of building something our kids can come into one day.”