by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Today 55% of foresters in this country are over 40 and only 11% are under 25. in other words, soon there won't be any around anymore. The old ones will be retiring or not able to continue working while there is no new life coming into the “industry”. Personally I hate to use the word “industry” for forestry and woodland management and working in forests and woodlands but we lack another term for it.
• Forestry and related courses are struggling for applicants
• Shortage of skills at all levels
• lack of awareness of forestry as a career option
• Students qualifying with very little practical experience
Huge growth is planned for the timber sector – this will require more skilled workers. But where to find those workers if they are not being trained? The problem is that even if a youngster at school expresses an interest for a career in forestry, horticulture, etc., in general, and this is especially so if he or she is a bright kid, that the school, because of league tables, will do its utmost to persuade the young person into a different career. This has to change.
The RFS FUTURE FORESTERS program intends strengthen the forestry “industry”, by:
• Promoting forestry as a career option to teenagers and secondary schools
• Giving up to date information, through the Online Forestry and Arboriculture Careers Guide
• Helping students find work experience
• Granting bursaries and awards to help students gain knowledge and recognition
The same is true not just in large-scale forestry, that is to say that foresters are getting older and there are very few young people entering the “industry” (how I hate that word with regards to forestry and farming), but also and especially in the management of smaller woodlands and woodland operations and we have a serious lack of woodsmen/underwoodsmen working the woods, the mixed broad-leaf ones, and especially in the old way of coppicing.
In the latter case, unfortunately, there is not program available from any source, and especially nor bursaries, that would help train more of those woodsmen that are so desperately needed to put our mixed broad-leaf woods back into use and production.
In that department we need some kind of apprentice scheme or schemes where it would be possible for younger – and also not so young people – to learn the skills, in practice and theory, from the old woodsmen. But, alas, those are nowadays far and few between; the old and experienced woodsmen that is.
The biggest obstacle though, in attracting young people to forestry and woodland management is not the young people themselves and that they do not want to go for a “career” in this sector but, like with horticulture, that secondary schools all too often try to dissuade, and that quite vehemently, young people from going to agricultural college to do horticultural or woodland management courses. All the schools are interested in is the league tables and pupils not going for university courses seem to badly affect those.
It is the same with the vocational schools that had their funding and status withdrawn simply because they were teaching practical subjects and especially outdoors trades. There a change will need to be effected before we will see anything happening.