CTI Blog - The Timber Skills Funnel: Unlocking potential
Currently a third of construction apprenticeships are employed in the wood trades, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for timber. The opportunities to work in the timber sector are manifold, currently employing 350,000 people, the £10 billion integrated supply chain is actively engaging talent in developing pre-manufactured buildings and components for construction, seeking foresters to support our vibrant forestry sector, creating new roles to support digitalisation and logistics in the complex and evolving supply chain, employing ever more engineers, technicians and product designers to support our modern manufacturing units and requires high-level craftsmen to produce bespoke furniture or deliver complex restoration work fundamental to preserving our heritage. Whilst we remain optimistic about the future, we have some fundamental concerns about the education and training landscape.
The Confederation of Timber Industries through the Wood Industry Training Group is looking to ensure that these opportunities are communicated and the infrastructure in place to support sector growth. At the top of the skills funnel (attracting people into the industry), the Makeit Wood Campaign is an exciting initiative, reaching into schools across the UK. This educational program fits into the Design and Technology curriculum in years 9-12. We have plans to scale this work up, however have concerns that Design and Technology is a subject in decline.
Despite being a practical subject that engenders a vital understanding of our manufacturing industries and the fundamentals of product design, skills so critical to any industrial strategy, it is seen as somehow less important than the more academic sciences. he decline in GCSE entries in this subject (from 440,000 in 2004 to just 185,279 in the last academic year) is a real concern for the UK industrial sector. Teacher recruitment in this discipline is also at an all-time low (less than 50% of the target DfE set in 2016) making the subject unviable in an increasing number of schools. As part of any overhaul of the Technical Routes for education Design and Technology should have equal status with the sciences on the National Curriculum.
As an industry, we are optimistic that the Apprenticeship Levy and resulting reforms provide greater flexibility and suitable incentive to deliver positive change. In readiness we have developed new Apprenticeship Standards covering manufacturing, processing and furniture production and we welcome the control that these standards hand back to the employers, however, the process needs urgent attention. It is taking too long to develop new standards and the goal-posts set by the Institute of Apprenticeships seem to be a moving target. Delivery is also a challenge, with FE Colleges under increasing financial pressure and limited support for the capital investment and additional space required to offer many of our courses.
The timber industry is working hard to support these vital institutions through the BWF Centres of Excellence initiative. As we develop ever closer relationships it is clear that more needs to be done to address the inherent competition between schools and FE Colleges. Developing a focus for Technical Qualifications through a UCAS equivalent system is also a priority that should focus on post 16 learners and ensure that all training and apprenticeship opportunities are presented to all students without prejudice. This process should also support a “clearing” system to minimise wastage, recycle opportunity and support informed choice. Every effort must be taken to ensure that the Technical Routes are not seen as the lesser option.
Higher level apprenticeships and the traditional academic routes also have a strong role to play to support innovation and the implementation of cutting-edge technology and as a consequence similar initiatives are being set up with Universities across the UK. The timber industry needs a constant flow of graduates in disciplines such as wood science, product design engineering, process engineering, mechanical and materials engineering as well as business, IT and logistical focussed subjects to support the digitalisation and ‘service-ification’ of manufacturing and construction. It is for this reason that the CTI and our respective Trade Bodies are working with Universities around the UK and exploring the opportunity of setting up an Innovation Council to better support innovation through collaborative networks across the UK.
Timber is very much seen as the emerging material of the 21st Century with huge global potential. If we want that the UK economy is well placed to benefit from the clear obvious opportunities that timber offers to develop - from forest through to factory a profitable supply chain capable of delivering to support the UK economic and sustainable targets - it is critical that we continue to work to ensure that schools, colleges and universities are engaged with our industry.
This means collaborating to develop our rising into work ready pioneers that can help to support the UK in building a modern and sustainable and world-leading industrial sector, capable of harnessing digitalisation, leading manufacturing 4.0 and ensuring the timber industry is a jewel in the UK industrial crown.