“I didn't think I'd be in my current role until my 30s or 40s, but I'm 25 and have reached my goal already.”
Name: Luke Williams
Grew up: Waimate, South Canterbury
Lives: Napier, Hawke’s Bay
Role: Harvesting coordinator
Pathway: Diploma in Forest Operations and Management, and Apprenticeship in tree felling and breaking out
You grew up in the small country town of Waimate in South Canterbury. How did you get to become a harvesting coordinator in Napier, Hawke’s Bay?
My work experience and my forestry qualifications played a big part in me securing my current role. Through the Gateway Program at my high school, I completed tickets (units of study) while working in silviculture (planting and pruning mainly pine trees in commercial forests). Once I finished Year 13 at high school, I moved to Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Rotorua (originally Waiariki Institute of Technology) and completed a Diploma in Forest Operations and Management. I then started an apprenticeship in tree felling and breaking out (attaching wire ropes to the felled trees for extraction) with a harvesting crew in South Canterbury.
What does a harvesting coordinator do most days?
My role for Forest Management (NZ) Ltd based in Napier is broad - I get to do a lot - but my focus is on the three vital stages of creating an operational commercial forest.
I plan roads and harvesting methods for individual forests then coordinate harvesting and earthworks companies to remove the trees and construct the roads. I then coordinate the harvesting crews to ‘clear fell’ harvest and process the remaining trees to produce the most profitable grade of log. As I coordinate these operations, health and safety and environmental regulations are a high priority.
Prior to my current job I was on the tools cutting down trees as a Tree Faller and attaching wire ropes to the felled trees for extraction as a Breaker Out, so I have first-hand experience of working on the ground.
You mentioned that when it came to your career, one thing led to another. What were the key steps?
When I was 15, I joined the Gateway Programme at school which was a huge help. I wanted to find a job that was mainly outdoors with a physical aspect. I first started off constructing walking tracks for a local organisation. The enjoyment of that wore off quickly so I asked my basketball coach, a local forestry worker, if I could have a go at tree planting for the company he worked for. After my first day tree planting, I never looked back. It ticked all the boxes I was looking for at that age. That experience flowed onto holiday work which also involved pruning, spraying and releasing trees. As my knowledge of different aspects of the forestry sector grew, my passion grew too.
Was there a lightbulb moment or anyone who influenced your decisions?
There have been multiple lightbulb moments. I can still remember my first day planting trees in the hills of South Canterbury: the clear crisp winter’s day with a view over the ocean is something I will never forget. Then watching a harvesting crew fell trees in the distance was enough to give me an adrenalin rush and make me think “I want to do that one day!” A careers advisor at school talked me through the options to grow in the forestry sector once I had completed Year 13. That was really helpful and I have followed that plan to get to where I am now.
You love being outdoors. What attracted you to the idea of being a harvesting coordinator?
I think harvesting is the pinnacle of forestry. When I saw the harvesting coordinators communicating with my old harvesting boss about the operation we were working on, I liked the idea of this role that pulled many different parties together. I decided then that was what I wanted to be.
How did you find your current role? Were you well supported?
When I came back to New Zealand after some time overseas, my ex tutors suggested I approach my current employer, which I did. Everything I studied has helped. I am learning and becoming more qualified on the job and there are a lot of like-minded and supportive people in forestry who help e.g. Future Foresters.
How has your experience in forestry compared to what you expected?
I’m very lucky because it’s everything I hoped for. I didn't think I'd be in my current role until my 30s or 40s but I'm 25 and proud to have reached my goal already. I’m really interested in the environmental aspects of forestry and I’m fortunate to have a CEO, manager and ecologist in the company who are extremely experienced in their jobs.
What do you love most about your job? What would you say to someone considering study, training or a role in forestry?
It’s extremely fulfilling to work with other contractors and to coordinate a smooth operation running to budget. I still get a buzz driving up to a logging site. I spend one third of my time in the office but being outdoors constantly reminds me of why I started in forestry. The job comes with many perks; hundreds of commercial forests are planted near beaches, rivers, lakes and parks. It’s an opportunity to see New Zealand differently from others. There is money to be made in forestry. It’s a broad and exciting sector with a very progressive future.
I imagine staying in forestry or transferring my skills to a forestry-related sector, for example working for MPI to promote environmental legislation that protects our waterways, flora and fauna. I could start my own contracting business or work my way up with my current employer Forest Management (NZ). There are so many different ways to go.