The classic role of the IWSc has been to provide technical training through its certificate course and its associate course.

Dr John Brazier, IWSc chief examiner and past president, said: ‘It isn’t sensible to try and put people with minimal knowledge on to these, so we ask them to have one or two years’ experience in the industry.

‘The courses have been running for 45 years and have been well used by the industry – many thousands have completed them. They started as evening classes, then the Training Boards made them day and block release courses.

‘When the Training Boards were wound down and the industry went through an exacting period in the mid 80s, support for training was reduced. There was a reluctance to send people away for training for a long period. At the end of the 80s we restructured our courses so they could be done on a supported distance learning basis. This has been reasonably well supported – but we all want more.’

The IWSc courses are well respected within the industry and up to 100 people go on them each year – mainly lower middle managers and sales staff who their companies see as having the potential for advancement.

Dr Brazier said: ‘It is a fast-track route for graduates to become of real value to the company and have good, sound timber knowledge.

‘We end up with quite a few mature people doing the courses as it is a professional qualification and gives people status. Plus, it gives them the opportunity to take a course without taking time off work.’

The Certificate and Associate Courses have formal three-hour examinations and the final result is based on 60% assessed course work and 40% examination, so candidates need a professional trainer.

Dr Brazier said: ‘We are currently seeking approval of the Institute courses from the Qualification and Curriculum Authority, the government registration body. To do that we have got to have the course, examinations and the whole question of course management and quality control set up and approved. This includes the approval of all those, whether college based or private, who tutor the courses.

‘We need a bigger pool of trainers. They come in many forms – from colleges, TRADA, private training organisations and individuals. They are enthusiasts who promote the course; they talk to companies and set their stalls out.

‘We have three main college centres – Buckinghamshire Chiltern University College (BCUC), the Isle of Wight and Warwickshire, but we can see training coming out of colleges and into companies.

‘BCUC offers a degree in forest product utilisation and consideration is being given to holders of the IWSc course qualifications having exemption from one year or possibly more of this course.

‘We have been pressing at both ends of the spectrum to have throughput education from the base line to the top line. The opportunity to progress from a foundation course to a degree should be there.’

For courses that are truly specific to timber and timber products technology, the IWSc’s are the only ones available in the UK. They are also used overseas.

The certificate course through a college route can be done within a year, but Dr Brazier said: ‘We don’t insist on that. By the in-house tutored and distance learning route it takes 15-18 months on average.’

The tutored component of the associate course is shorter but has a project built into it. Dr Brazier explained: ‘The candidate’s project has to be something of interest to the company and it can take 6-12 months depending on the enthusiasm of the individual. The project allows a candidate to study a topic in detail and can be of great benefit to his or her company. This creates a spin-off both ways.’

Dr Brazier said the timber industry is constantly changing so it is vital that people keep up to date. This requires the IWSc courses to be continually revised to take into account variations such as the introduction of new European regulations.

So why should people undergo training? For the individual it means they can gain a recognised qualification and for companies it means they can gain a competitive edge.

Dr Brazier said: ‘We would like to see more people on our courses and dispel the belief that they are too technical and only suitable for a few employees.’