Some years ago, an old friend and stalwart of the trade noted the arrival of I-joists from North America with disdain. The words “passing” and “fad” were mentioned.

• Possible wishful thinking on his behalf: 1
• Evidence of reliable soothsaying skills: 0

Today, engineered wood-based structural systems from both sides of the Atlantic are products of choice for many builders. Was this luck or good timing? A little good fortune never hurts, but quality products manufactured by well-resourced companies investing in research, development and training, combined with market intelligence and planning, had a major part to play in this successful market penetration.

For some in the trade, this development has been difficult; for others it raises the profile of timber-based solutions in construction and interiors, helping to de-couple price and value in the minds of customers.

Engineered wood has a lot to offer the construction industry, from its well-established base in floor structures, to roofs and walls. And the market is underpinned by further product development work and distribution networks which are improving efficiencies throughout the supply chain.

The human element, however, remains critical. Quality products and powerful sales and design tools are important parts of the formula, but well-trained, knowledgeable and motivated people working in sales, design, processing and construction are crucial to the long-term success of our industry.

The skill of the personnel working in timber engineering to interpret customer requirements and tailor products to suit different applications is vital; design computers and CNC saw systems are only tools and, while easier to operate than ever before, still require experience and expertise to be effective. The onus is on us all to encourage new blood into the industry and retain those emerging skills with ongoing training and competitive remuneration.

Whether Gordon Brown’s target of 300,000 new homes a year is realistic is a matter of debate. But demand for housing and the amount of timber products within it are unlikely to wane. Embracing and being empowered by the environmental argument, the timber and timber engineering industry faces challenging, exciting times ahead. Innovation and ongoing skill development will position it to take full advantage of nature’s number one building material in the short, medium and long term.