The meeting also heard from Charles Bushby, Director (for Central Scotland) with Scottish Woodlands Ltd, who served as an officer in the Black Watch until 1994 before retraining as a forester in his 30s. He said the skills of communication and managing people he learned in the military were vital to becoming an effective manager in the forestry industry, as well as how to operate heavy machinery in difficult locations.
Charles added: “I also found that being able to write documents that are accurate and to the point (which I had done in the military) also helped in forestry.”
Richard Hunter said forestry needed an estimated 3000 people to plug UK-wide skills gaps. As part of Confor’s strategy to address this, he works with High Ground (which helps ex-military personnel move into land-based careers) and the MoD’s Career Transition Partnership (CTP).
Mr Hunter said taster sessions where ex-military personnel could try out large machinery were vital to ‘make it real’. Scottish courses had been extremely successful over the last two years, he said, but new funding was needed to hold these courses elsewhere in the UK, not least because it was costly and difficult to move such heavy machines.
“Industry is behind it, and will supply the kit, and the interest is definitely there - but we need funding to make it happen in England,” he added.
Mr Hunter discussed transferable skills that helped ex-forces personnel make the transition to forestry. “The military trains people very well - making them good team players, good leaders and forward thinkers, all qualities that are needed in forestry,” he said.
“Forward planning is crucial in understanding what actions are needed in forestry, now, or next year for a crop that takes decades to grow. Veterans in my experience get this long-term view. They have served for years, and see their input paying off over the long term.”
He added: “Another excellent quality that veterans bring is life experience, skills not taught in colleges and universities - thinking on your feet, problem solving and taking action when needed. These are skills that take years to master, but to veterans they are second nature.”
Mr Hunter said many service leavers didn’t have forestry on their radar as a potential new career. He added: “Often I challenge them to see how their skills could fit into forestry. There are some easy ones – machinery operation, management, logistics - but it could also be something like cyber security.”
Scott Cooper said he was attracted to forestry by the chance to work outdoors, which he still enjoys. Describing the challenge of the initial transition, he said: “Things people take for granted, like daily decision-making, is difficult. When you're in the military, it's pretty much all done for you. You just have to turn up in the morning, and go home, and you get paid. You don't have to worry about anything. When I moved into my first place after leaving the Army, I didn’t know how to sort out my electricity. It takes a lot of readjustment.”
Scott said he thought there was more help for transition now than when he left a decade ago, including areas like mental health support.