It’s one of the most momentous decisions we ever have to make: at the tender age of 16, we have to choose a career path that will inevitably shape our lives for years to come. But, with a widening skills gap emerging in the British woodworking sector, what is being done to entice talented students to work in the woodworking industry? W16 is pleased to announce its own solution to help address the issue of attracting much-needed new blood to our industry.

For Jon Gibson, managing director of Didac Training College, his first tentative steps in the woodworking industry were part and parcel of a wood machinist apprenticeship. “Like so many teenagers, when asked what I wanted to do when I left school, I had a vague idea. I liked the idea of working with wood but I didn’t know how I could turn this interest into a career, or what my options were.

“Thankfully, I left school in the 80s and I had the support of a careers advisor to guide me in the right direction. I become an apprentice and learnt the skills I needed. This is what forged my interest in promoting the importance of apprenticeships in the industry.”

For many students today, the presence of a career advisor in their school is somewhat of a novelty and with the demise of government-funded career groups, students have to look for career advice and support in other ways.

The leading woodworking machinery and materials exhibition, W16, has teamed up with specialist woodworking training provider, Didac Training College, and skills development body, Proskills UK Group, to create a networking hub for students who are interested in working in the woodworking industry.

Promoting the industry to students and potential employers alike, it offers insight into apprenticeships and the tailored training schemes offered by training experts, the qualifications available to them and the opportunities that exist within the industry.

“The woodworking industry is fragmented and needs a diverse skill set,” says Jon. “No one course can deliver generic manufacturing training because students in this field could end up creating anything from kitchens and bedrooms to windows and coffins. It’s my job to work with the industry to create challenging training schemes that will develop skills in the student that will prove vital to the industry.”

The biggest challenge faced by industry training experts is changing the perception of the students and their parents, whilst promoting the importance of a wider skill set in schools. Jon explains: “The woodworking industry requires a very similar skill set to the engineering sector but we haven’t been as good at promoting ourselves. This could easily lead to a sharp decline in the number of skilled workers entering the industry. We need to attract young students who want to learn and invite employers that see the potential. That’s why W16 is the ideal setting to promote our work.”

To put things into perspective, in 2014-2015, there were 499,900 apprenticeship starts in England, 14% more than the previous year. However, look deeper into these figures and you’ll see the furniture, furnishings and interiors industry only took on 460 apprentices and the wood and timber processing and merchants industry only filled 30 apprenticeship roles.

In an attempt to increase these numbers and show W16 visitors exactly what the industry has to offer, Jon and his team will be heading up the exhibition’s Competition Zone at this years W16 exhibition.

Winners from regional heats will compete live at the show to win valuable work experience with one of the industries biggest names. “Unlike furniture or bench joinery, woodworking machinery doesn’t get represented in the UK’s skills competition so it’s a great opportunity for students to show the industry exactly what they can do. It’s also a great example to show students and parents what students could do if they went on to complete a woodworking apprenticeship,” explains Jon.

Support for tomorrow’s industry doesn’t stop there. The four-day event will also feature a Best Practice Zone that will offer visitors practical advice relating to the industry, including specialist recruitment agencies for those already working in the industry and those interested in a career in the sector. Informative seminars will also be taking place and leading skills development body, Proskills UK Group will be offering a training and educational advice hub for visitors.

Lisa Campagnola, event manager of W16 adds: “We understand the importance of manufacturing and we know the industry needs to invest in people in order for the industry to flourish. We want W16 to champion the manufacturers of tomorrow and become a driving force behind the industry’s future. By working together, we’re confident we can make a difference and continue to see the industry grow.”

W16 will be co-located with the UK’s only furniture components show, Elements, and will take place from the 2nd-5th October 2016 at the NEC, Birmingham.