Here, Matthew Gaskell, a Development Woodland Officer with the Forestry Commission, talks about why he decided to kick start a career in forestry after leaving school last summer.
Open to school leavers, graduates or anyone looking for a change in career direction, the Forestry Commission’s Development Woodland Officer programme offers applicants the opportunity to study the Professional Forester Apprenticeship at the National School of Forestry. The degree level apprenticeship is a three-year, paid development opportunity for passionate individuals. It is the first-of-its-kind apprenticeship initiative to foster a growing, highly skilled and diverse workforce within the forestry sector.
I’m Matthew, I’m 19 and I live in Cumbria. I work with the Forestry Commission’s Northwest team which is based in Penrith.
I always had an idea that working in forestry was the career path I wanted. With a granddad who was a tree surgeon, I was pushed into work experience and volunteering, including tree planting and conservation. I always enjoyed it, and being outside rather than stuck in an office was something I would never complain about. While I had offers from Bangor Uni and University of Cumbria, I wasn’t keen on going to Uni full time, so when I saw the Forestry Commission’s degree-level apprenticeship scheme on gov.uk, I decided to apply.
Probably the main benefit of doing an apprenticeship versus attending Uni is that, rather than sitting in a big lecture hall listening to someone throw loads of words at you off a screen, I’m learning while I’m outside on the job, and seeing theory put into practise. This, for me, is so beneficial as it ties everything together, and clarifies anything that didn’t make sense in the lecture hall. Being paid to learn, of course, is also a bonus!
The job, I find, is enjoyably varied. The best part is being out in the woods and physically putting into practice what I’ve learnt in Uni – being out with a colleague while they discuss management plans with the public or talking to landowners to help them get the best out of their land, from what species of trees to plant, to where and why.
The Degree side - the University studies, have been excellent. Obviously, there’s a lot of information coming at you, but to me the lecturers keep everything interesting. The learning block is roughly every eight weeks, either at Cannock Chase in Rugeley or the University of Cumbria, which is in a stunning location at Ambleside, set in the middle of the Lake District. The weeks are also an opportunity to catch up with the rest of the apprentices and to share experiences and knowledge. This last module was on Silviculture (that’s the care and management of trees), discussing everything from the best planting locations for different species, to germination, soil types and ground preparation for seedlings.
One of the biggest skills the programme’s given me is the confidence to go out to talk and negotiate with people, from all different backgrounds. I’m also pleasantly surprised, while only six months in, with the amount of knowledge I’ve picked up while in the field or talking to more experienced colleagues. Everyone seems always ready to answer any questions I have, no matter how ignorant they seem.
My advice for anyone thinking about applying from school or college is to not worry about experience, it’s more important to focus on enthusiasm. The apprenticeship’s about bringing in new people into forestry, with new ideas. It’s the perfect gateway to a future career in forestry – it’s so much better to have already worked in the sector for three years, rather than leaving Uni and starting from scratch again. There are doors already open.
The Forestry Commission is looking for 15 people who want to kick start their career in forestry.
Students will benefit from academic studies in forestry management at the University of Cumbria, practical experience in Forestry Commission area teams across England, and up to nine months of wider sector placements to further build their skills and experience, enhancing future employment prospects.
Upon completion of the programme, successful graduates will earn a Professional Forester Apprenticeship (equivalent to Level 6), a BSc (Hons) Professional Forester, and the potential to gain Chartered Forester status with the Institute of Chartered Foresters.
Visit Apply for a Forestry Apprenticeship - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) for more information.
The deadline to apply is 26th February 2023.