“Three changes”: Call To Inspire Next Generation Of Foresters

The Royal Forestry Society is calling for three changes to make it easier for young people to enter the sector and for career changers to qualify.

By Wendy Necar · October 12, 2023

Like many land- based sectors, forestry is faced with an aging workforce.

Speaking at the National Forestry Conference on ‘The Next Generation’, Royal Forestry Society Chief Executive Christopher says: “There is no shortage of young people wanting to work in forestry and woodland management. We know from research and from those applying to join our Forestry Roots programme that many want careers in forestry related jobs.

” However, they tell us when they look at courses or apply for jobs, they are faced with barriers.  It is the next generation who will manage the trees we need to battle climate change and to achieve Net Zero targets. We must make sure they have the skills.”

He wants to see:

  • A network of colleges ensuring anyone can easily reach a relevant course from their home. Woodland management, he says, should be included in all land based or agricultural modules.
  • More options for those considering a career change. He suggests access to recognised job training courses, much like the PGCE for those going into teaching.
  • Employers re-assessing requirements for potential recruits. Some, he says, are inadvertently excluding many young people.

Christopher explains: “It remains incredibly difficult for young people to find out about the many exciting jobs there are in forestry. This is especially true for those in urban areas or without families already working in land-based sector.

“Even if they do hear about the potential careers, the basic apprenticeship pay is too low to survive on for those without family financial support. Many cannot afford to move to access Higher Education or Further Education away from home.

“Some employers ask for evidence of volunteering skills. This can exclude a whole raft of people for whom time spent volunteering is not economically possible. If someone is paying college fees and/or accommodation, they may need to earn from part time jobs to cover those bills.

“For those with skills who have discovered their original career choices were not for the person they have now become, it is very hard to change. You may well still be paying off your original degree, have mortgage and family commitments. The costs of another degree can be unreachable.”

His comments come as an EFRA committee launches an inquiry into Education and Careers in Land-based Sectors and the agricultural sector.

Committee Chair, Sir Robert Goodwill, is on record saying: “The UK’s agricultural and horticultural sectors offer a wide range of rewarding careers and employ hundreds of thousands of people. There are many jobs available in land-based industries and it is vital that there are fit for purpose career pathways to reach them…This inquiry will consider whether education and agricultural policies are working effectively to promote the sectors and facilitate people choosing this field of work.”

Through its Forestry Roots traineeships programme with The ALA Green Charitable Trust, the Royal Forestry Society is significantly contributing to sector recruitment. This year 10 posts have been offered.  Each paid Forestry Roots posts is offered for one year with additional training to help people get their first steps on the forestry ladder.

The RFS is also a signatory to The Care Leaver Covenant, a national inclusion programme that supports care leavers aged 16-25 to live independently.

Latest statistics reveal 20,000 are employed in forestry with another 13,000 in sawmilling. It is estimated the sector needs to recruit at least 100 people every year until 2030 to the sector. New recruits are needed in all areas – from planting and harvesting to planning, management and research.