From education to employment

Apprenticeships are vital to plugging our green skills gap and creating future forest guardians

A recent piece of research from Teach for the Future revealed that, despite climate action being one of the UK’s number one domestic policy priorities, it barely features in the national curriculum currently. This warning comes as part of a long-standing and well-documented debate around the green skills gap, where a chronic shortage of qualified and experienced workers in this sector is threatening to hamper progress towards the UK’s climate goals.

With the number of people seeking a career in forestry in decline, there is a risk of skills shortages in the immediate future if the volume of new entrants into the sector does not increase, and this poses a real threat to the future of our woodlands. This is a particular worry given the Government’s recent focus on tree planting as part of their efforts to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and their aim to plant 7,000 hectares of new woodland per year over the course of this parliament.

We know many young people have a passion for protecting the environment and a global survey of 16–25-year-olds last year highlighted that almost 60% said they felt very worried or extremely worried about the impacts of climate change on their future. But without the proper education around environmental issues in school and college and clear pathways to careers within the green economy laid out for them, how are young people going to be given the support and direction they need to turn this passion into a fulfilling career that also helps protect our planet?

The theme of this year’s National Apprenticeship Week is ‘build the future’ and never has investing in skills training for young people been more important, as we all face an uncertain future as a result of the climate crisis. Apprenticeships will be vital to provide a route into green jobs and vocational training that the next generation need if they are to become a part of the solution to this crisis. Not only do they give young people an opportunity to learn and develop the skills required, but they also open doors to a more diverse workforce in the sector.

At the Heart of England Forest our forestry apprentices are provided with a wide range of learning opportunities, including theoretical training and hands on experience of all aspects of social forestry. We are very proud that our forestry apprenticeship and forestry intern programmes are addressing a gender imbalance in what has historically been a male dominated sector (50% of our forestry team is female), and that they provide a great route into the sector for people who may not have traditionally thought of forestry as a career path.

Our apprenticeships are open to people of any age and level of experience and give them the platform from which to pursue a wide range of roles within forestry, conservation, or the environmental sector, all of which are critical to addressing some of the most urgent challenges of our time. This is why we are currently launching two new Forestry Apprenticeships for 2022 – if we are to grow and restore our forests, we must also grow and support the generation who will become our future forest guardians.

By Beth Brook, Chief Executive, The Heart of England Forest

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  1. Hopefully numbers have improved in the last year.
    I’m finding increased interest in a related area, forest food gardening. But are there apprenticeships available in it? I suspect it’s not seen as being main stream enough.