ICF Announces £400,000 Skills Boost for English Forestry Sector

ICF Announces £400,000 Skills Boost for English Forestry Sector

The Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF) today announced that, in the face of steep competition, it has secured a £400,000 funding package from the Government through the UK Commission for Employment and Skills Employer Ownership Pilot (EOP).

Set up in 2011, the EOP is a competitive fund open to employers, to invest in their current and future workforce in England. Its aim is to raise skills, create jobs, and drive enterprise and economic growth. Interest in this second round of the scheme was high, with organisations bidding for over six times the £240m available.  

In what is considered a major industry coup, the ICF’s successful bid will enable new approaches to growth for England’s forestry sector and support business-led groups to deliver training and development in an innovative manner that employers may not otherwise be able to access or afford. The project will be open to all in the sector, not just ICF members.  

Shireen Chambers FICFor, ICF Executive Director, said of the news: “We’re delighted that the UKCES has awarded the forestry sector this grant. Many of our members have told us that,  as small employers, they struggle to find the time and resources to ensure their management and leadership skills are up to scratch yet know that they must drive for growth and innovation in their business if they are to survive. We hope that this project will find ways to help them do just that.”

The project initially arose out of research carried out for an innovative Knowledge Transfer Partnership run by the ICF on professional development. Employers from across the sector voiced concerns about their ability to access business skills for employees, and to capture new and emerging opportunities. Discussions with employers and a survey of managers representing 25% of the sector showed widespread demand for the activities proposed and a willingness to support the project.  

The project will be delivered by Rural Development Initiatives Ltd on behalf of a Steering Group of employers and contributing organisations, chaired by the lead employer UPM Tilhill.

Employers in the Forestry sector, the majority of whom are micro-businesses or SME’s, recognise that this is a pivotal time, with a number of opportunities and challenges presented by the economic situation, climate change and the ‘green agenda’. England’s forest industries directly employ over 11,000 people, contribute £4.2 billion of GVA annually and support a further 100,000 jobs in downstream industries. This is forecast to increase due to the low carbon nature of forest products such as construction timber and woodfuel. Yet 50% of England’s woods are not in sustainable management and we import approximately 80% of our wood products, worth £6.8bn. This represents a significant opportunity for the industry if it can overcome barriers to success. Innovation is essential to growth, ensuring businesses are better able to capture the potential.  The recent Independent Panel on Forestry Report (July 2012) and the Government’s Response (January 2013) highlight clearly what needs to be done.  Employers recognise that to take advantage they need a new and enhanced suite of skills. Although there is a logistical difficulty in bringing together so many small employers, developing a network to engage them is a realistic one.

The innovative nature of this proposal is that employers, working with a wider business community, and with access to new technologies, models and approaches, will be better able to respond to, and seek out, opportunities for growth and expansion. There will be increased co-operation and collaboration across supply chains and between business and academia. Although relatively small scale, this project will be transformational for the sector and feed into much bigger gains in downstream industries.

It is estimated that increase in the uptake of training within enrolled businesses in leadership & management and new technology solutions will increase from 20% to 75%.

George McRobbie FICFor, Managing Director of UPM Tilhill, the lead employer in the project Steering Group, said: “In this rapidly changing world, to take advantage of the opportunities which we see ahead, our forest managers need to be more than just technical experts; they need to innovate, to be good leaders and adept at working with others in their supply chain. These aren’t things that they learn at university, but they are things we, along with our partners in business, can support them in acquiring as part of their professional work.”

Shireen added: “Employers are in need of better management and leadership skills. This proposal focuses on leaders and managers in the industry as they’re the primary drivers for growth and innovation in the sector. By providing the managers of the future with enhanced skills and experience the sector will be better able to innovate, leading to improved business productivity and profitability, increased employment and reduced imports of raw materials and finished goods.”

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