Story | 09/12/2016 10:03:00

Future machine operator

Petteri Järvinen

Forest industry/bioindustry is experiencing a new upswing in Finland. The biomass from forests is utilised even more in a sustainable and efficient way. The bright outlook for the industry has encouraged students to begin training. The number of students in forestry industry related training in Jämsä Vocational College has almost doubled in the last couple of years. Adult education in particular has increased significantly.

Unfortunately, there are not enough students training to become harvesting machine fitters. Thus, Finland suffers from a chronic lack of mechanics who would master heavy machinery fitting. Their expertise is needed for heavy-duty vehicles and in earth construction, the mining industry and forest industry. This field is very challenging for those organising the training as well as for the students themselves. The funding for such training is also clearly below the cost structure of the education in general. Workers in this field cannot be trained with the same funding as car mechanics.

Jämsä Vocational College has a good and varied fleet of harvesting machinery. As the funding diminishes, we might need to replace this with a cheaper and smaller fleet of machines, using the so-called miniature harvesting machines. Because the student volume has increased, the number of the forests used for primary education creates a bottleneck. Luckily, we have good connections with UPM, for instance, and we have received training grounds for more advanced students.

Personalised studies and competence-based evaluation

New legislation on personalising studies and moving towards competence-based evaluation during internships have significantly altered and will further alter the methods used in vocational education. The cost-effectiveness of education must be substantially increased. In the expensive machined harvesting training, in particular, simulators must be utilised more and more in teaching.

Today’s technology makes it possible to create almost authentic virtual environments and machines. In other countries, virtual passenger cars utilising hologram technology are already used in automotive technology training. The actual teaching and communication with students are also changing. Currently, teaching and guidance via live video feed from the field are being developed.

The development of digitalisation and technology is altering operators’ job descriptions. Robotics is also expected to take a huge leap forward in the development of harvesting machines. Remotely controlling the machines and controlling multiple machines at the same time are the future. The traditional driving job is being transformed into an operator job without compromising the extensive know-how from the field.

Increasingly differentiated values and uses

Transportation logistics from the forest to the processing plant is also changing drastically. In 10–15 years, robotic operators will transport biomass along the highways. In smaller road networks and forest roads, however, a person is still needed inside the cabin. Harvesting machine operators are expected to have the traditional know-how, but also the capability to plan the job and worksites, as well as cope in social surroundings. More and more people with different ideas and backgrounds are present in forests and near harvesting sites. The machine operator is often the first contact for visitors at worksites, so the operator has an essential role in creating and building quality and company image.

The industry is becoming more and more mechanised, and emphasis is being placed both on machined harvesting and on expertise in forest management and use of hand tools. Not everyone wants to mechanise harvesting.

Forests have increasingly differentiated values and usages. For some, a forest is an investment while for others it is a place for relaxation. Environmental issues and understanding natural diversity are present in the daily work of a machine operator. A professional must be able to identify important natural sites and point out the best berry or mushroom spots to people wandering in the forest. They have to be able to operate in the forest while respecting the creatures living there.