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Future of Forestry: Skills Sector Study 2017

 

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The Forestry Skills Study,commissioned by the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) with the support of Woodland Heritage, Forestry Commission England, Cumbria University and the Scottish Forestry Trust, has revealed that the numbers of people working in forestry in England and Wales is growing as the sector benefits from an upturn in demand for forest products

However it also demonstrates that while employers are more confident about the availability and suitability of staff than they were previously, there are significant shortfalls in some key professional and technical skills.

Employers are particularly concerned about:

  • The availability and skills of machine operators. Employers need operators who are more technically competent and able to work in more demanding situations
  • The availability of chain saw operators, especially those able to fell larger hardwoods
  • The supply of  competent tree planters - vital if rates of new woodland creation are ever to reach government targets
  • The practical and business skills of graduate recruits. Employers report graduates lack practical skills in key areas such as forest mensuration, forest soils and GIS mapping. There is also some evidence that they are recruiting from other disciplines to find employees with broader generic business skills

The report was presented to the Forestry Skills Forum on 7 December 2017 along with recommendations to develop a cross sector Action Plan that builds stronger links with schools, universities, colleges and training providers and employers in England and Wales.

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An Executive Summary of the report can be read here, and the full report here.

The study, conducted by RDI Associates, comes at a time when the sector has seen the numbers of people directly employed in England and Wales rise from 10,000 in 2010 to 13,000 in 2016.

Some of the problems identified in the report are historic - the result of a period of low timber prices which resulted in a lack of investment in people and training. As more experienced foresters reach retirement there is a shortage of those who have the wider professional abilities or technical skills to replace them

Other areas of concern include:

  • The absence of forestry-related teaching in the national curriculum at GSCE level, especially given its importance to the environment, economy and society
  • The decline in the number of students enrolling in forestry degree courses in England and Wales although some universities report higher enrolment in the 2017/18 cohort.
  • The lack of focus on forestry related skills training in Further Education colleges-
  • A lack of female and BME recruits to the industry

These and other issues identified in the report will now be the subject of an Action Plan to be developed by the Forestry Skills Forum in early 2018.

 *Picture copyright: Martin Glynn and RFS/Moulton College


The purpose of the Forestry Skills Forum is to:

  • agree collective, collaborative and individual actions across industry and other organisations on priority skills issues
  • share information
  • provide a unified voice for advocating and promoting education, learning and development in forestry

Activity will focus on:

  • Improving/promoting the image of the sector, providing information and attracting new talent
  • Workforce development
  • Labour Market Intelligence
  • Further/Higher Educational provision

The group’s objective is to be a collective voice across the sector on skills:

  • Supporting the development and delivery of a Skills Action Plan, and the Actions within it
  • Challenging and encouraging industry to take the lead with the skills agenda
  • Identifying gaps and duplications in provision, and taking actions to address them
  • Informing and influencing on skills issues including qualification development and professional/educational interaction
  • Making representations on education, learning and development issues on behalf of the sector e.g. at APF, and holding Grown in Britain Week events
  • Communication, liaison and where appropriate joint working with Scotland and Wales, reflecting the ‘borderless’ nature of the forestry industry