Getting training on track

Progress is being made, but improving training and education continues to be an imperative for the future of the timber sector.

Improving educational provision across the wide spectrum of the timber industry continues to interest me and I remain involved in initiatives to help drive this agenda forward. Whilst President of the Timber Trade Federation in 2003-4, I initiated the ‘education training & careers committee’ and, since that embryonic start so long ago, we are now seeing actions finally coming to fruition. But there’s still much to do!

The Construction Industry Training Board stated that 4000-plus carpentry and joinery craftspeople needed to be trained between 2017 and 2022 to address the sector’s skills shortage. That’s over 25,000 people to connect with over the next four to five years.

Craft skills are vital for all woodworking trades. Shopfitting linked to interior design is a part of all of this and the young and not so young trainees we attract now, will be key future users of our products, so we must connect correctly and develop appropriate interactions. What a wonderful opportunity!

As President of the Institute of Carpenters (IoC), this is a real motivating factor for me. We are now linking students, colleges, lecturers, working and retired IoC members (mentors) and a network of collaborating organisations through a pilot ‘City Hub’ programme based in further education colleges in London, Lancashire and Tyneside. And significantly, we are now working at the IoC to roll this out nationally, during the next year step by step.

It’s been really invaluable to bring into reciprocal membership with the IoC, the National Association of Shopfitters, British Woodworking Federation, Timber Decking and Cladding Association, Timber Trade Federation, Timber Research and Development Association and the Structural Timber Association, all of which have an interest in linking this complex industry and sharing knowledge with the next generation of learners.

A network of over 40 FE Colleges is evolving and, by connecting with the IoC, helping train students through Diploma, NVQ and Apprenticeships programmes. This has given the IoC itself (established in 1890) renewed purpose and direction, offering the support of a professional organisation to those in training and then beyond when qualified, at a time of major industry change.

Timber research and application in innovative construction has been a focus at the Institute for Sustainable Construction at Edinburgh Napier University (ENU) for 15 years. In parallel, the School of Engineering and the Built Environment has led timber-related courses and modules aligned to professional careers, introducing ISC research into its teaching programme. Given the growth of timber-based construction systems across the UK and overseas, the school recently launched an MSc Timber Architectural Design and Technology course. This covers offsite timber construction, timber design, building performance, new technologies and materials. Also, as a board member of the Business Engagement Forum at ENU, I am delighted to see this progression.

The school also operates the Built Environment Exchange (BeX) MSc programme, where companies sponsor students to undertake projects and course work aligned to their sponsors’ needs and plans. This was awarded the 2018 Herald Higher Education Award for its close partnership with industry and the impact it’s made. You can find more information on these and other courses at

More recently the ISC team secured major funding through the Edinburgh City Region Deal to support more inclusive approaches for training and CPD in the construction sector. Southeast Scotland is among the UK’s fastest growing regions, with over £30 billion of new construction investment over the next 10-15 years. This provides a ‘green gold’ opportunity for timber-based construction to become a keystone for future low carbon development.

Content written by Geoff Rhodes, President of the Institute of Carpenters. This post is part of a series penned by leading figures from across construction, architecture, design and retail in recognition of our Centenary Year.