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Learning on the job

23/11/2021

Forestry came to Amy Robinson by chance after an engineering adviser came to talk to her in Year 12 and mentioned the forestry school.

Excerpt taken from article by Hayley Leibowitz (First published in Logger magazine-October 2021)

Originally planning to sign up to an engineering degree but having not taken physics at school, the University course co-ordinator suggested she look at forestry.

Amy, who is currently Rayonier Matariki Forests Production Manager, took to forestry like a chainsaw to a log and before long, Amy graduated with first class honours from Canterbury University’s Forestry Science faculty. It was 2011 and Amy landed a job with Rayonier Matariki Forests (RMF), as a Log Production Coordinator in Whangarei, Northland with her sights firmly set on being the company’s first female Production Manager. 

“From university I had my heart set on working for RMF as they were known as one of the best companies in the industry. I was grateful to be selected to do my dissertation topic with RMF in my final year of studying, so this was a great way for me to learn about the company and vice versa,” she says.

In Northland she really cut her teeth in forestry, being thrown into a role supervising harvesting crews. There were a lot of challenges starting right out of university, where she found herself as boss dealing with contractors with many years of experience.

“There were times when I was really tested and had to stand up for myself but I ultimately gained the respect of the crews I supervised by listening and learning.” To such an extent that when she left Northland three-and-a-half years later to move within the company to Canterbury, she received recognition of her contribution by a highly-respected contractor in the industry. Amy still regards this as one of her proudest moments.

When she left Northland, she relocated back to Canterbury to join the Rangiora office and continued in the same role but was exposed to different tasks and challenges.

“During this time, I was involved in a national project looking into harvester head data capture and analysis which saw me head the implementation of this software throughout the business. This involved working with RMF staff but also contractors and operators to ensure its success.

“After a couple of years, I was offered the position of Harvest Planner in Canterbury, which involved planning the harvesting operations but also managing and supervising the engineering and road maintenance programmes.”

Following some organisational changes, she was then offered the role of Forest Manager, Canterbury which involved managing the capital expenditure programmes (Engineering and Tree Crop) for the Canterbury region. She also became more involved in stakeholder management and other land management requirements.

“I really enjoyed this time delving into the world of Tree Crop as I had been largely production-orientated for some time. There is a lot more science combined with complex operational decisions and processes to manage in this area; it was a lot of fun. During this time, I was keen to be involved in some industry development and worked on the committee that ran the 2019 New Zealand Institute of Forestry (NZIF) conference.”

It took her 10 years of hard work, strong learnings and earning the respect of her workmates to finally get that Production Manager role.  

“I have been in the position for about ten months now and am enjoying learning and developing in this role. I am also now an industry representative on the School of Forestry Advisory Committee (SOFAC), ensuring that the school moves and grows with the industry.  The governance board meets biannually to review the School’s performance and to ensure the structure and content of the degree meets the needs of the industry and employers.

“I really enjoy being involved in industry groups as it allows you to make great connections to others working towards the common goal,” she says. “As I get a bit older and maybe wiser, the involvement in these groups becomes even more important to ensure that forestry remains an important part of New Zealand.” 

A changing world

Amy is clear on what really matters in forestry today: “I think the most important issue for the industry is educating the government and councils on the role forestry can provide, not only in the economic growth of our country alongside the other key industries such as farming and horticulture, but also for maintaining our rural communities, job security and protecting our environment.

As to being a woman in a male-dominated industry, Amy says she recently read a book about Mary Sutherland who was the first female forester to work in New Zealand for the New Zealand State Forest Service (A Path Through the Trees by Vivien Edward).

“It was frustrating to read that she did get treated differently because of her gender, but she worked hard and it’s humbling to know her legacy lives on in her work and that she designed the NZIF logo. I like to think that the world has changed and it’s great to see more females getting into the industry, especially helped by the scholarships now available for women to study forestry at university.

Amy says there are challenges being a woman in forestry but she also believes women have an opportunity to add value to the workplace because of the different dynamics they bring to the table.

Amy adds that, any differences aside, she would “hands down!” encourage women into the industry. “I have never felt that I have been treated any differently working for RMF or encountered any direct negativity from contractors or workers because I am a woman. I am proud to work for a company which recruits on merit, often employing young women, be it in planting, machine operation or management roles.

She has been involved in some challenging and interesting projects over the years where she was able to do that respect justice. She was the company lead on the STICKS software project which gave her the opportunity to travel to the US Pacific Northwest to present the technology to RMF over there.

More recently, she has been involved in a company project which she suggested as an improvement to the way the Engineering and TreeCrop areas of the business pay, track, forecast and monitor expenditure. “The intention is to streamline and create more efficiencies and enable better tracking and monitoring of financial information,” she says.

Based on her experience, would she recommend a career in the forestry industry? “The industry has so much to offer,” says Amy. “It is extremely diverse; covering management, genetics and growing trees, engineering, finance, shipping, research, consultancy, worldwide opportunities… the list goes on. If you are keen on working in an environment where no two days are the same, surrounded by hard-working down to earth people, then this is for you. 

As to the future, while not many people can say they’ve achieved their goal by the age of 31, Amy can tick that box… for the time being, anyway. She says right now she is concentrating on learning and developing in the Production Manager Role: “My goal is to be the best Production Manager I can be and see what opportunities open up from there. From a career perspective, the door is always open to new opportunities. I am keen to stay in the forestry industry… one day it would be amazing to take the next step and manage a region.”