Changes to working culture, candidate expectations and an aging workforce have left a distinct impact on various industries across the UK, and the timber and forestry industry is no exception. The industry is seeing a distinct shortage of future leaders entering the sector, especially with a forestry background, therefore the need for developing and retaining talent is on the rise.

BSW Group is in the privileged position of operating at all stages of the forestry and timber lifecycle, which has provided a unique insight into the advantages and benefits to the wider sector when there is a joined-up approach to education, for those working within our industry. This approach not only benefits the employees, but it provides solid foundations in making our sector sustainable for the future.

In order to meet the challenge head on, we need to forge our own path and bring new ideas, rethink old ones and revolutionise how the sector approaches recruitment and education. We also need to be responsible as a collective in how we go about it, not just within individual companies, but by businesses working together to improve the sector and the supply chain.

At a time when forestry courses, apprenticeships and opportunities are disappearing rather than moving in a positive direction, we should look to work together as an industry to ensure numbers are met to meet minimum criteria, as well as stepping forward to help design course content that is of value to our sector. While it can seem labour and time-intensive in the initial stages, the rewards are a cohort of new starters who both understand the forestry sector and are able to hit the ground running.

The news that Skills Development Scotland is currently in the review phase of a new apprentice programme focused on the forestry sector is welcomed, as is their approach to working with the sector as part of the review process. Following COP26, there is a need for a 30% increase in Scotland of new talent entering forestry over the next 10 years. Therefore, it is vital that all the sectors work together to ensure this new apprenticeship comes to fruition and that the course material matches industry need.

Nearly all apprenticeships within our manufacturing sector relate to the engineering side of our business, which is relevant and important considering the advancements in technology and the direction of our industry. In fact, our sector is strong in this area, with businesses driving forward some fantastic ideas and incentives, making a real difference to the industry. What we now need to work together on is replicating this for forestry, especially at a time when the need for forestry and timber-related apprenticeships is growing.

In Scotland for example, the Scottish government has a target of creating an additional 12,000ha of new woodland each year, with forestry contributing more than £1bn into the economy. While the sector currently employs over 25,000 full time employees, the lack of entry level training courses will have a detrimental effect over the short to medium term until this is rectified.

With only a handful of universities now offering forestry degrees, it is becoming harder to successfully recruit the leaders of tomorrow. England’s Development Woodland Officer programme is a fantastic starting point but with nothing similar on the cards for Scotland or Wales, there is both an opportunity and a need for companies – big and small – to work together to change this.

Ambition for a sustainable future for our world links closely to the ambition of our workforce. The growing interest in sustainable models and approaches in the way we do things within a global context plays into the hands of the forestry and timber industry. As a sustainable material that is used in sectors such as construction and heating, the opportunity to promote this to potential employees, especially Gen Z, cannot be underestimated. Working in this sector provides purpose and meaning – something that can be lacking in other sectors, especially in relation to the health of our planet – to the most in-tune generation ever.

However, saying and doing are two very different things, and Gen Z is a generation that will call out companies who say and do two separate things. Our involvement in the COP26 house, designed by Peter Smith of Roderick James Architects, showcased the collective ambition of what can be achieved with the materials and technologies we have available today. Built using UK-grown timber, supplied by BSW Timber, a member of BSW Group, it demonstrates the simple, affordable way to build beautiful, sustainable homes that can help us meet our climate commitments.

Constructed in central Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference held between November 1-12, 2021, COP26 House was designed with small scale, rural self-build developments in mind, but can be adapted to larger scale developments and offsite prefabrication. It is this type of work that excites the future generation of workers that want to be part of the bigger picture and work with an industry commitment to tackling the issues of today.

As well as attracting new talent, it is important to look at retaining current employees. While the timber and forestry sector has had a rough 12 months, which have seen several companies re-evaluate their business operations and streamline to become more cost efficient, valuing current workforce at a time of a cost-of-living crisis can be of benefit. There are several ways companies can look to do this.

For example, at BSW we have a strong history of apprenticeships and adult apprenticeships, and currently have 31 working with us across the business. It is important companies communicate the scale and breadth of opportunities available for staff at all levels. Apprenticeships can span entry level right up to MBAs for the next generation of leaders, all of which add value at company and industry level.

There is also the need to offer internal training courses that provide skills and knowledge to employees. Our in-house staff provide level 2, 3 and 5 in Leadership and Management by the Chartered Management Institute, with many who complete the course going on to want to secure accreditation to Charter Manager status.

Offering these types of opportunity shows your willingness to invest in the value you have in your workforce. For those who are working full time and undertaking study – for the benefit of the company – look to offer time for study opportunities and set aside time for essays and projects. It can create a real sense of value and promotes wellbeing at a time when it is a major focus for workforces across the UK.