Proskills chief urges timber sector to pay towards future skills development

28 June 2016

The head of the now closed timber and furniture sector skills council Proskills has warned the industry to “step up to the plate” to fund future skills development.

Proskills, which ran apprenticeship, training and careers-related projects for 13 years, closed on June 1 due to a lack of funding.

Jonathan Ledger, CEO of Proskills, told TTJ that much of its work would continue through others but warned that employers in the timber and furniture industries needed to take ownership of the issue and give financial support to ensure companies had the right levels of skills in the future.

The Prokills board made the closure decision in mid-May and has had a battle to ensure enough financial support since the government withdrew its funding in 2011.

“We had some revenue and tried to create a sustainable model going forward but unfortunately funding from employers has been almost non-existent in terms of hard cash,” he said.

“We have tried what we could to extend and develop our commercial and charitable reach. But we experienced a gap between two contracts.”

Mr Ledger said a recent project for the Confederation of Timber Industries was the only time in the last five years in which the timber sector has paid for a Proskills service.”

Some 75% of Proskills’ income came from overseas building materials related contracts in countries including China, India and Kazakhstan, which effectively were paying for its UK work.

Mr Ledger said some sections of the industry were under the mistaken impression it had enough funding sources because it was a registered charity, despite Proskills’ repeated calls for industry financial backing since the government funding withdrawal.

“It’s all in the hand of the employers now. They want this stuff but they do not want to pay for it.

“Employers have got to stop talking about skills gaps and actually do something about it and step up to the plate.”

He warned employers to get hold of the issue and not wait for the government to sort out.

Despite the lack of funding, Mr Ledger said timber sector companies had provided valuable backing and support to Proskills initiatives.

“We have left a legacy and paved the way for the wood and furniture industries, giving them a good base to build on.”

The MakeIT! Schools programme will be now be in the hands of the British Woodworking Federation, while Occupational Awards Limited (OAL), which awards NVQ qualifications across a wide array of timber sector activities including sawmilling, engineered wood and wood processing, is being transferred into new parent ownership.

Trailblazers / Apprenticeships will continue to be developed with key employers and in partnership with OAL. Regulated apprenticeship certification will move to another sector skills council but is temporarily being looked after by the Federation for Industry Sector Skills & Standards.