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Forest and Wood Products

Overview

This page provides high level information and data on the Forest and Wood Products industry which comprises two main industry sectors:

  • Forestry
  • Timber Processing and Products.

Forestry sub-sectors include:

  • Forest Growing and Management
  • Harvesting and Haulage.

Timber Processing and Products sub-sectors include:

  • Sawmilling and Processing
  • Timber Manufactured Products
  • Wood Panel and Board Production
  • Timber Merchandising.

The Forest and Wood Products industry generated $23.1 billion in revenue and contributed $7.2 billion to Australian gross domestic product (GDP) in the 2019–20 financial year.

Since the release of the Forest and Wood Products IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast, the number of non-employing businesses and small (1 to 19 employees) businesses has declined, particularly in forestry. However, this is the result of consolidation within the industry, which has seen a doubling in the number of large businesses (200+ employees). The log sawmilling sector has consolidated, with companies increasing their scale, and smaller hardwood millers exiting the industry. The number of large businesses has also increased in logging, timber resawing and dressing and wooden structural fitting and component manufacturing. There is considerable variation between industry sectors but employment growth is expected in most sectors.

Forest and Wood Products are a critical regional industry for the future for Australia and will need a skilled workforce to sustain it. The industry has the capacity to provide considerable support for the Australian economy in a carbon-constrained world. Developing a skilled workforce in planting, engineered wood products and the use of biomass will be critical to capitalising on these opportunities.

Nationally recognised training for the Forest and Wood Products industry is delivered under the FWP – Forest and Wood Products Training Package.

Unlike many training packages, the vast majority of enrolments in this Training Package do not occur in major cities. Relatively low formal use of the Training Package is an ongoing issue. Industry maintains that low numbers of enrolments do not indicate an absence of training needs, but rather that the vocational education and training (VET) sector fails to recognise, understand and deal with costs, issues and problems associated with thin markets, regional delivery and specialised industries.

Industry has developed a preference for skills development on an ad hoc basis, with many employers hiring workers with basic skills, often new entrants to the industry, and then upskilling them, or offering training for existing employees during the course of employment when necessary (e.g. upskilling in new technology). Training is often conducted in-house by experienced workers.

Many enterprises use the Forest and Wood Products Training Package units of competency as skills standards for purposes other than training. This includes using the skills standards to map the requirements of a particular job role, or to map the requirements of a particular function. Units of competency are also used as the basis of determining individual career pathways, workforce development plans, and are often reflected in position descriptions.

For more information and data specific to Forestry and Timber Processing and Products please visit the respective pages.

Information sourced from the Forest and Wood Products IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast and the Forest and Wood Products IRC’s 2020 Skills Forecast.

All data sources are available at the end of the page.

IRC’s and skills forecast

IRCs now submit comprehensive Skills Forecasts to the AISC every 3 years, with abridged annual updates submitted in the intervening 2 years.

Industry cluster snapshot

Employment and training snapshot

Employment levels for Forestry and Logging, Wood Product Manufacturing, and Timber and Hardware Goods Wholesaling have fluctuated significantly between 2000 and 2020. Employment levels are expected to increase between 2020 and 2024 for all three industry sectors.

Enrolments in Forest and Wood Products-related qualifications have continued to decline since 2015 when more than 3,880 program enrolments were recorded. In 2019, there were approximately 2,160 program enrolments. Program completions declined between 2015 and 2017 but have increased in 2018 and 2019. Program completions rose above 800 in 2019.

In 2015, the majority of Forest and Wood Products-related subjects were delivered as part of a nationally recognised program, however, between 2016 and 2019 the majority of Forest and Wood Products-related subjects were not delivered as part of a nationally recognised program. In 2019, 37% of Forest and Wood Products-related subjects were delivered as part of a nationally recognised program.

Industry insights

Industry insights on skills needs

The following generic skills were identified as top priority for the industry:

  • Technology and use application skills
  • Environmental and Sustainability skills
  • Language, Literacy and Numeracy skills.

The Forest and Wood Products IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast highlights the rapid transformation in which Australians live, work, rest and play and how this is impacting the industry and associated resources, as well as the processes and systems used to create and maintain these built environments.

Anticipating future skills needs is crucial to prepare for and meet new demands for forest sustainability and timber product markets in Australia. Leading indicators of current and future skills needs in the sector include:

  • Advancements of processing initiatives within manufacturing fields, including bioenergy, biochemicals, artificial intelligence, new engineered wood products and new building systems impacting the industry skills and workforce profiles
  • Changes to the National Construction Code allowing for timber manufactured products to be used in high rise buildings up to 25 metres in height, creating cross sector relationships with commercial construction and new skill considerations
  • Future changes in workplace and job design which are driven by innovation at the business and/or industry level as a result of technological advancements, including drones, scanners, laser scanners, cutters and finishing systems, plant genomes, block-chain applications and big data analytics.

The Forest and Wood Products IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast reports specific skills shortages which relate to the occupations of Specialist Engineers, Scientists and Mechanics, and Mobile and Fixed-Plant Operators. A need has also been indicated for workers with high-level financial, middle management and information and communication technology (ICT) skills. Recruiting skilled managers and professional staff, transport workers, finance managers and heavy machinery operators is also problematic for many regional businesses.

The Forest and Wood Products IRC's 2020 Skills Forecast highlights key issues affecting the industry:

  • Climate change is driving a push for planting more trees, as well as less carbon intensive construction methods, and novel uses of biomass for energy and other purposes
  • Bushfires, and the increased risk of bushfires, are impacting the industry in both terms of the resources available to the industry and new training challenges posed
  • Ensuring workplaces are as safe as possible, particularly in remote areas
  • The ongoing challenge of accessing training in thin, regionally dispersed, markets
  • Employers throughout the country continue to be concerned about the need for career pathways into and within the industry.

The impact of the 2019–20 bushfire season on native and plantation timbers was far greater than anticipated and will have a significant impact on the industry now and into the future, particularly in New South Wales, Victoria and on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Maximising salvage operations was a priority in the immediate aftermath of the fires. In the short term, demand for harvesting and haulage of plantation softwoods exceeded the capacity of the industry, and sawmills put on extra shifts to process salvaged wood. In the longer term, re-establishing plantations will be a major focus. The environmental constraints on re-establishing plantations require a different skill set than the work associated with establishing plantations in areas unaffected by fire.

Further, from a skills and workforce perspective, forest workers are increasingly being deployed during the bushfire season to perform roles that are distinct from their roles as forestry operations contractors and managers. Working in bushfire management, mitigation and firefighting has been described by the industry as being as much a core part of work as tree harvest operations or planting. Forest workers are involved in firefighting activities, including:

  • Defending resource and forestry assets
  • Salvage operations after the fire has passed
  • Fire suppression efforts in land use such as farms and national parks
  • Make-safe operations and road clearing
  • Re-establishing plantations.

Forestry operators need to be effectively trained and ready to respond and assist but it is unclear whether all current employees have the skills to perform all these roles. The Forest Management and Harvesting IRC has proposed a project for 2020–21 to examine the roles played by forestry operators responding to and assisting in bushfire situations and to update national qualifications and skills standards with the necessary skills to ensure that units of competency and qualifications reflect the need to undertake operations not only in harvesting operations, but also in firefighting and recovery assistance.

Additionally, industry is reporting an increased demand for mechanical thinning as a means of managing fuel load (an alternative to prescribed burning). It is likely that mechanical thinning will become an important role for workers in the industry in jurisdictions where it is adopted.

Technologies developed in other industries are being adapted for use by the Forest and Wood Products industry. Drones have been trialled for use in aerial ignition to support safe and effective hazard reduction burning in New South Wales and for drone-assisted survival assessments in Western Australia. Other industry uses include:

  • Fauna survey visualisation and pre-harvesting animal welfare surveying
  • Tree count and height assessment in mid and long rotation
  • Damage assessments
  • Control burning monitoring.

The industry is primarily concerned with the data obtained from the use of the drones and tends to outsource the drone piloting. As in other industries, data collection and analysis is becoming increasingly important.

The use of robotics is increasing for materials handling, processing and surfacing. Investments in research and technology show the pipeline of future skills needs. The acquisition of these skills across the workforce has begun and will gradually transform the way work is performed in the Forest and Wood Products industry.

The Forestry sector remains focused on driving safety measures. There were 18 fatalities in the Australian Forestry and Logging sector between 2012 and 2016. Given the comparatively small size of the sector, this means that Forestry and Logging Workers are almost two and a half times more likely to have a fatal injury at work than road freight transport drivers and 17 times more likely than construction workers. Between 2012 and 2016 a fatality was sustained by 1 in every 2000 Forestry and Logging Workers; and a serious injury was sustained by 45 in every 2000 Forestry and Logging Workers (1 in every 44). Forestry operators work in small teams, sometimes only with two-way radio contact and on sites that are often difficult to access for emergency personnel. Working in remote areas requires a different set of safety skills than operating in a manufacturing site, on a construction site or in another location where medical assistance is only a phone call away. The critical need for all members of these small teams to be competent in mental health first aid has also been identified.

The Forest Management and Harvesting IRC has proposed a project for 2020–21 to develop a skill set and up to two new units of competency for operators, relating to shaping and sustaining safety culture and practices whilst working in remote high-risk operations. Workers need units of competency that include the following aspects:

  • Shaping and sustaining safety culture in remote high risk operations
  • Maintaining safe mindsets and practices in remote operations
  • Establishing and maintaining safety monitoring systems in remote operations
  • Adapting operations as a result of weather conditions
  • Being responsive to and aware of surrounds (fire, landslides, topography)
  • Working alone or in small teams
  • Noticing own and others well-being – mental health first aid
  • Managing fatigue in remote high risk operations
  • Adapting emergency procedures for remote high risk operations
  • Communication whilst working in remote high risk operations
  • Maintaining concentration over long periods of time in remote high risk operations.

COVID-19 impact

Australia's Forestry and Wood Products industry manufacture and deliver a range of essential services and products, many of which experienced record demand as a result of COVID-19. The integrated nature of the industry meant the continued supply of these vital products was contingent upon the continuation of the entire forest products supply chain. Harvesting pulp logs for paper and cardboard manufacturers is only commercially and operationally feasible if higher-value timber for sawmills is also harvested. Forest product industries were deemed ‘essential services’ and continued to operate throughout the COVID-19 crisis to ensure Australians continue to have access to essential goods and services, including:

  • Toilet paper, tissues, medical products, sanitary products and other paper products experiencing record demand
  • Cardboard packaging for supermarket and retail deliveries, including pharmaceuticals
  • Food and beverage packaging
  • Wooden pallets for supermarkets and other retailers' distribution operations
  • Timber for housing and building construction
  • Newspaper for most of Australia's metropolitan and regional newspapers, which are an essential source of information for the community
  • Supply of wood residues to the agriculture sector, essential for food production
  • Sawn timber and Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) used to make poles for electricity and telecommunications services, as well as fence posts, which are in high demand after the catastrophic bushfires
  • Firewood, which is the main source of heating for many households.

Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) delivering to industry were able to continue with training delivery on worksites in forests where they can easily maintain a healthy distance between the learner and the trainer. Training delivery in classrooms was, however, affected. Rooms with a capacity of 18 students became limited to 8 people at a time. For some RTOs the reduced class sizes rendered some courses financially unviable to deliver. Some training that required the trainer to be close to the learner, such as in first aid and chainsaw courses, was cancelled or postponed. This impacted businesses internal training programs and staff development. RTOs have advised that some work sites have closed their doors to on-site training delivery to reduce exposure of their workforce. Where possible training was moved to online and blended delivery. The previously common practice of sending trainers interstate to deliver training and assessment was limited by border restrictions. Professional development opportunities from industry associations shifted to webinars, e-learning, podcasts, videos, and social media posts.

Individual companies implemented management strategies for COVID-19 in accordance with state and federal restrictions and protocols. Strategies included work from home and physical distancing protocols, providing hand sanitiser in the workplace, and re-arranging operations and processes to mitigate the spread of the disease.

Links and resources

Below is a list of industry-relevant research, organisations and associations. Hyperlinks have been included where available.

Relevant research

Australia's Forests at a Glance 2019 – Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)

Australian Forest and Wood Products Statistics – Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)

Bushfire Recovery Harvesting Operations: Position Paper – Institute of Foresters of Australia and Australian Forest Growers (IFA/AFG)

Economic Potential for New Plantation Establishment in Australia – Linden Whittle, Peter Lock and Beau Hug for the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

Effects of Bushfires and COVID-19 on the Forestry and Wood Processing Sectors – Linden Whittle for Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)

Growing a Better Australia: A Billion Trees for Jobs and Growth – Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

Industry Action Agenda 2019 – The Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub

Northern Forestry and Forest Products Industry Situational Analysis – Michael Stephens, Tim Woods, Clarissa Brandt, Mila Bristow and Mark Annandale for Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA)

The Djarlma Plan (WA Forestry Industry Development Plan) – Forest Products Commission Western Australia

The Value of Being 'Essential' – IndustryEdge

Upscaling the Australian Softwood Sawmill Industry: Feasibility and Implications for Future Plantation Investment – Linden Whittle and Rhys Downham for Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)

Victorian Forestry Plan – Victorian Government

Wood Encouragement Policy for Western Australia – Forest Products Commission Western Australia

Industry associations and advisory bodies

Arboriculture Australia

Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB)

Australian Cabinet and Furniture Association (ACFA)

Australian Forest Contractors Association (AFCA)

Australian Forest Growers (AFG)

Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA)

Australian Glass and Window Association (AGWA)

Australian Pulp and Paper Technical Association (APPITA)

Australian Shop and Office Fitting Industry Association Ltd (ASOFIA)

Australian Timber Importers Federation Inc (ATIF)

Australian Timber Trainers Association (ATTA)

Australian Woodworking Industry Suppliers Association Ltd (AWISA)

Cabinet Makers Association of Western Australia (CMAWA)

Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia (EWPAA)

Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA)

Forest Industries Association of Tasmania (FIAT)

Forest Industries Federation (WA) Inc (FIFWA)

Forest Industry Council (Southern NSW) Inc (FIC)

Forest Research Mount Gambier (University of South Australia)

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Australia

ForestWorks

Frame and Truss Manufacturers Association of Australia (FTMA)

Furniture Cabinets Joinery Alliance (FCJA)

Glued Laminated Timber Association of Australia (GLTAA)

Institute of Foresters of Australia (IFA)

Master Builders Association of Victoria (MBAV)

MGA TMA (Timber Merchants Australia)

Picture Framers Guild of Australia Inc (PFGA)

Responsible Wood (formerly known as Australian Forestry Standard Ltd)

Tasmanian Forest Contractors Association (TFCA)

Tasmanian Forests and Forest Products Network

Tasmanian Sawmillers Association (TSA)

Timber and Building Materials Association (TABMA) Australia

Timber Communities Australia (TCA)

Timber Development Association of New South Wales (TDA)

Timber NSW Ltd

Timber Preservers Association of Australia (TPAA)

Timber Queensland Ltd

Timber Trade Industrial Association (TTIA)

Timber Veneer Association of Australia (TVAA)

Victorian Association of Forest Industries Inc (VAFI)

WoodSolutions

 

Government bodies

National Timber Councils Association (NTCA)

Timber Towns Victoria

 

Employee associations

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)

Australian Workers’ Union (AWU)

Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU, though commonly still referred to as CFMEU)

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment 2020, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

  • by ANZSIC 2 and 3 digit industry, employment projections to May 2024
  • 03 Forestry and Logging
  • 14 Wood Product Manufacturing
  • 333 Timber and Hardware Goods Wholesaling.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020, Employed persons by Industry group of main job (ANZSIC), Sex, State and Territory, November 1984 onwards, 6291.0.55.003 - EQ06, viewed 1 August 2020 https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/6291.0.55.003May%202020?OpenDocument

  • Employed total by ANZSIC 2 and 3 digit industry, 2000 to 2020, May Quarter
    • 03 Forestry and Logging
    • 14 Wood Product Manufacturing
    • 333 Timber and Hardware Goods Wholesaling.

Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider CollectionTotal VET Students and Courses from the FWP Forest and Wood Products Training Package.

This includes superseded qualifications and training packages.

Data covers a range of selected student and training characteristics in the following categories and years:

  • 2015 to 2019 program enrolments
  • 2015 to 2019 program completions
  • 2015 to 2019 subject enrolments.

Total VET students and courses data is reported for the calendar year. Program enrolments are the qualifications, courses and skill sets in which students are enrolled in a given period. For students enrolled in multiple programs, all programs are counted. Program completion indicates that a student has completed a structured and integrated program of education or training. Location data uses student residence. Subject enrolment is registration of a student at a training delivery location for the purpose of undertaking a module, unit of competency or subject. For more information on the terms and definitions, please refer to the Total VET students and courses: terms and definitions document.

Low counts (less than 5) are not reported to protect client confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place. This can lead to situations where the total sum of proportions in a chart may not add up to exactly 100%.

FWP Forest and Wood Products Training Package apprentice and trainee data has been extracted from the National Apprentice and Trainee Collection, including:

  • 2010 to 2019 commencements
  • 2010 to 2019 completions
  • 2019 apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2019 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

Priority skills data have been extracted from the Forest and Wood Products IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

Updated: 25 Sep 2020
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