The numbers of people working in forestry in England and Wales are growing as the sector benefits from an upturn in demand for forest products. Employers are more confident about the availability and suitability of staff than they were previously, but there are significant shortfalls in some key professional and technical skills, says a recently commissioned report.
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 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, is being presented to the Forestry Skills Forum today (December 7) 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.
The study, carried out 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.
Speaking on behalf of the consortium of forestry organisations who sponsored the report, RFS Chief Executive Simon Lloyd says: “The forestry sector is experiencing growth in demand for home grown timber and wood fuel, and we expect to see a significant increase in the numbers of trees planted in the coming years. Forestry offers excellent career opportunities at all levels. If it is to thrive, we need to work together to ensure the sector attracts and retains talent, and skills gaps are addressed. This report provides the evidence base and impetus to make this happen ”
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.