FORESTRY England East has an ageing workforce working in forestry land management and retirements in these highly skilled teams leave gaps in knowledge and practical experience.

In 2019, Mark Collinson and Reuben Peecock joined the direct production harvesting team in Thetford Forest on a two-year fixed-term appointment trainee machine operator programme. Both had previous experience in forestry, with Mark joining from a local woodchip supplier and Reuben having previously been an apprentice at Delamere.

The creation of these trainee positions was driven by a need to instil succession within the harvesting team in Thetford; a team staffed by extremely experienced machine operators, most with over 40 years at Forestry England.

Alongside Forestry England’s Fahra Collins, health and safety, training development and change manager, and Bob Forsyth, an external forestry training provider, Forestry England developed a two-year training programme with the expectation that at the end of their FTA, Mark and Reuben would be fully integrated with the rest of the harvesting team, and operating machinery at a productive level.

During the first year, both attained their base machine and forwarder FMOCS and quickly became important members of the DP team, contributing massively to the team’s hard work keeping timber production in Thetford flowing during the height of the COVID pandemic. At the start of their second year, they both received training on the harvester and started to work alongside other DP harvester operators to build up their experience on the machine before successfully passing their felling and processing FMOCS last month.

Both have achieved all their training targets within 18 months of starting their traineeship and they are both now fully qualified machine operators and soon to be full-time members of the team.

Gareth Jones, operation harvesting and marketing manager, said: “We’re so pleased to have found these two trainees and how they have approached their development.  Even better that we have been able to secure permanent positions whilst ‘waiting ‘ for retirements, it just removes the uncertainty and the resulting temptation to look for alternative employment as we enter the final six months of the traineeship.”

Ruben Peacock said: “I’ve really enjoyed the training. I’ve learnt lots from our trainer and working with an experienced team.”

The importance of high-quality, in-depth training cannot be understated and underpins the sector approach. It is recognised that tree work can be a high-risk activity with operators often working in remote areas with difficult terrain, therefore effective training is essential to ensure the work is carried out safely.

Forestry England has fully adopted the FISA process of training followed by a formal independent assessment to confirm the adequacy of the training. This ensures the operator has been imbued with the skills knowledge and behaviours needed and has a basic competence; this is followed by a protracted period of supervised consolidation before the team member becomes a proficient operator.

Mark Collinson is looking forward to a long career with Forestry England. He said: “My skills have been helped by having questions answered and advice given by colleagues willing to share their knowledge.”

Forestry England says it is committed to providing excellent opportunities for individuals to begin and build their career in forestry. The trainee machine operator scheme is one part of a wider strategy which covers a range of disciplines and offers a number of pathways into our organisation.

More information on current and future opportunities can be found on the website.