THE skills shortage in the UK forestry and timber industry cannot be filled until there is more awareness of the "exciting" apprenticeship opportunities available in the sector.

That’s according to senior figures at the BSW Group, who recently welcomed Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes to the firm's Fort William sawmill.

During her visit, Ms Forbes, MSP for the town, toured the site and met with apprentice engineers and saw doctors to hear first-hand about their experiences and the growth of the industry.

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Group learning and development manager Tony Lockey said: “In the wake of COP26, there has been an emphasis on the fact we need to promote working in timber and forestry, and how a career in our industry can support young people’s values about protecting the environment.

“A lot of the time, the apprenticeships that the Government pushes are focused on public sector needs, such as a call for 30,000 new NHS workers. Having the opportunity to show one of our region’s MSPs around is great, and we welcome more MSPs to come along and see what we are doing.

“The passion that our apprentices were able to get across enables Kate [Forbes] to go to Holyrood and promote apprenticeships in timber and forestry businesses.”

One of the largest sawmillers in the country and a subsidiary of BSW Group, BSW Timber has a history of apprenticeships, with 22 of the 25 taken on in the last ten years still working for the business.

For Tony building awareness of apprenticeship schemes beyond national frameworks is vital to getting people into the industry.

Forestry Journal: Kate Forbes with Ryan Boyle, a fourth-year mechanical apprenticeKate Forbes with Ryan Boyle, a fourth-year mechanical apprentice

He added: “What people often forget is that we need to educate parents and colleges on various types of apprenticeships too.

"It’s not very often that parents will advise their children to look at an apprenticeship with us, but they might push them towards an office-style apprenticeship.

"Getting people down to the sawmill, can be an eye-opener, which really represents what career opportunities there are in our sector."