Young people are intersted in the forest sector, which they regard as a versatile field and a good employer. Only a few percent of the applicants can be accepted for the most popular apprenticeships in the forest industry.
’Young people find that the forest industry provides good jobs and is a good employer. The pay is good and the days are varied,’ says Jenni Långsved. She completed a process operator apprenticeship in the UPM forest industry company in the autumn of 2021.
On being asked specifically, Långsved confirms that this is not just what she or her friends think.
Recent years have seen a change in the attitudes of young people towards the forest industry and the forest sector. One sign of this is the popularity of the apprenticeship training provided by Långsved’s employer, UPM’s Kymi pulp mill.
Young people find that the forest industry provides good jobs and is a good employer. The pay is good and the days are varied.
’For the 2022 intake we received 355 applications, which was twice as many as for the year before. This was a surprise, as we can only take in eight to ten apprentices at a time,’ says Jyri Kylmälä who, having previously worked as General Manager of UPM Kymi mill integrate and pulp mill, is now Director (Investment Projects) for UPM’s pulp mills in Finland.
At UPM Kymi, the increased number of applicants was in many ways a positive surprise. Though the average age of the mill workforce is only 48 years, transferring tacit knowledge to the younger generation takes over 20 years, in Kylmälä’s opinion.
The mill requires that those accepted as apprentices hold a vocational qualification appropriate for the job they are trained for. Långsved says the qualification only gives you a superficial grasp of the work.
’The two years spent as apprentice doing a real job gave me an immensely better grounding, though of course, having the qualification was also very helpful. Still, your competence increases in quite a different way when you get to deal with an actual warehouse, for example.’ Långsved says.
Apprenticeships gain in importance
Sirpa Kärkkäinen, Liaisons Manager at the Finnish Forest Association, has also noted the growing popularity of apprenticeship training. At the association, she is in charge of work with young people and cooperation with schools.
’Apprenticeship training is getting to be a crucial channel into jobs in the sector, even if it isn’t appropriate for all sorts of work. Still, even the biggest forest service companies have started to recruit people to train apprentices,’ Kärkkäinen says.
At UPM Kymi, apprenticeship training was started in 2013. Since then there have been eight intakes.
Work at the mill mainly consists of controlling different processes, such as chemicals recovery, wood handling, and the operation of the recovery boiler and the boiler of the Kymin voima power plant.
’Those are part of a process operator’s work, but the actual job must be learned at the mill. Dealing with the situations you come up against in the process industry can’t be rehearsed in advance,’ says Kylmälä.
Every hour is paid for according to the collective agreement, and the apprentices are in a formal employment relationship. We want to hang on to the people we’ve trained, and the only way to do that is to be a good employer.
Am apprenticeship at UPM Kymi takes two years. 10 to 15 percent of the training consists of lectures, the rest of actual work.
’Every hour is paid for according to the collective agreement, and the apprentices are in a formal employment relationship. We want to hang on to the people we’ve trained, and the only way to do that is to be a good employer,’ Kylmälä points out.
The training at UPM Kymi is implemented in collaboration with the Saimaa Vocational College. All in all, UPM is currently running about 20 different apprenticeship programmes in Finland, with a total of some 300 students.
Junnikkala trains 30 workers for its new sawmill
Another company relying on apprenticeships is Junnikkala Oy, currently operating sawmills in Kalajoki and Oulainen in North Ostrobothnia. The company is facing a substantial challenge with the starting up of a new sawmill in Oulu, scheduled to become operational in January 2024.
’Our aim is to train about 30 workers, We’ve been sounding out the interest in this since last autumn, using a form on our website. We haven’t advertised it at all, but over a hundred people have indicated their interest,’ says CEO Kalle Junnikkala to forest.fi.
The actual application period started in the beginning of March.
’And we’re going to train everyone, whether or not they have previous experience in the field. That’s because the package includes the equipment suppliers’ training of the operators,’ Junnikkala says.
The programme begins with a month of intensive theoretical instruction in October. The students will complete the national vocational qualification in wood industry, specialising in sawmill industry. The instruction is organised by the Jyväskylä Educational Consortium Gradia, as was reported by the Puumies magazine.
The students are expected to complete the qualification by September 2025 in addition to working at the sawmill. They will receive pay from the start of the programme.
Covid-19 had varying effects
What about interest in other forms of forest sector training and education? Ville Manner, managing director of the Metsäkoulutus [Forest Education and Training] association says that as far as interest in forest-related studies is concerned, there is great variation that is difficult to explain.
In Finland, forest-related studies in Finland are organised by vocational colleges, universities of applied sciences and traditional universities. The Metsäkoulutus association has monitored the number of applicants to all these since 2014.
In the main, the numbers of applicants whose first choice is the forest sector have increased on all levels throughout the monitoring period. For vocational colleges, applicant numbers dropped briefly during the pandemic yeas 2020–2021.The qualifications available at vocational colleges include forestry machine operator and forest worker, for example.
These days, practical forest work doesn’t include anything that a woman can’t do as well as a man. We could increase the number of applicants by specifically targeting women in the marketing.
Six universities of applied science offer a bachelor-level decree in forestry. The applicant numbers at these universities have remained fairly stable, at somewhat under 500, except during the pandemic years, when the number peaked at 870. The reason is not known.
The numbers of applicants to the two traditional universities offering degrees in forestry have increased steadily throughout the monitoring period.
’Then, in 2022, the number of applicants to the University of Helsinki dropped by almost a third, to 132. Again, we have no idea why,’ Manner says.
The share of women applicants is small, only 5 percent in vocational colleges and 15 to 20 percent in universities of applied sciences.
’These days, practical forest work doesn’t include anything that a woman can’t do as well as a man. We could increase the number of applicants by specifically targeting women in the marketing,’ says Manner.
The share of women studying forestry in traditional universities is about fifty percent.
Young people consider forest sector to be a key future sector
What, then, is so attractive about the forest sector? In 2022, the Finnish Forest Association and the TTS Työtehoseura corporation completed a survey named Samassa metsässä [In the same forest], which delivered pretty much the same message as that given by Jenni Långsved: young people are interested in the forest sector, since it is known to be versatile and a good employer. A similar result is seen in the Youth barometers commissioned by the Finnish Forest Association, the most recent of which was published in 2022.
Young people want a job that has a meaning. They see the forest sector as a key sector for Finland, above all in terms of economy, but also as a sector that provides global solutions and a way to the future.
’They want to be involved in this, and that goes equally for secondary-level and university students,’ says Kärkkäinen.
An excellent illustration of this is this statement captured in the survey, by a young person studying to be a forestry machine operator: ’Well, I’m the one who decides which trees are removed, so it’s up to me what the forest will look like in the future.’
Forest know-how is not needed in forest sector alone
According to the Samassa metsässä survey, the young people deciding about their field of study list the teachers and study counsellors at schools as the least useful sources of information on the forest sector. On the other hand, it is known that if the forest sector contacts local schools with a view to attracting students, the results are usually good.
Kärkkäinen finds it crucial to present a true image of the sector, and fortunately for the forest sector, that image is positive. The greatest false idea is probably that of a lone guy at work in the middle of a forest.
’In all respects, the forest sector is a many-faceted entity. Above all, we work with people, all over Finland, we continuously develop new things to manage both forests and forest nature, to produce things that ordinary people need and to find global solutions,’ says Kärkkäinen.
’As an example, gathering forest data is increasingly digital and automatic. The human contribution to this consists of developing the data gathering systems for, say, forestry machines or remote sensing,’ Kärkkäinen continues.
The forest sector should stop acting shocked if forestry students end up working in another sector. This can only be a good thing for the sector. Perhaps the concerns caused by land use planning could be diminished if local authorities and consulting companies employed more people who know about forests.
Universities in particular would do well to listen to the students’ wishes about the focus of studies, which could be described as ’less of the chainsaw and more of the management’.
‘Then again, the forest sector should stop acting shocked if forestry students end up working in another sector. This can only be a good thing for the sector. Perhaps the concerns caused by land use planning could be diminished if local authorities and consulting companies employed more people who know about forests,’ Kärkkäinen says.
Manner is of the same opinion, at least as regards those with university degrees.
’I’m not sure if it’s equally useful if a machine operator leaves the field after gaining five years of experience,’ he says.