Reproduced with kind permission of Wood For Good –

Timber is a strong, flexible material with a vast array of different applications, from structural panels and beams; to roof trusses, doors, and flooring; through to insulation, fencing and decking. For centuries timber has been used as a building material – but in recent years advances in timber science and engineering have meant that the breadth of applications has exploded.

Moreover, as the climate emergency advances at pace, the benefits of timber as a renewable material that locks in carbon during its lifetime hold increasing importance. Timber also has a key role to play in the quest for a circular economy and growing our own construction materials in local forests is an important part of this cycle.

To nurture and grow this expanding industry – it is essential that we build and retain the right skills in forestry management, timber engineering, design, and construction, to meet the changing demands of construction while meeting the challenges of climate change head-on.

Fusing academia and industry

Championing timber education in the UK is the Timber Development UK University Design Challenge. Run by Tabitha Binding every year since 2018, this well-established interdisciplinary student design challenge brings together timber professionals, design professionals, students, and potential employers to learn, network and collaborate.

Projects over the years have included the design of a timber car-park, student accommodation built on top of an existing building, as well as housing schemes.

FREE RESOURCE: Every year the design challenge hosts a series of webinars with leading timber experts examining different aspects of timber design, engineering, and construction. This year’s topics included making the right choices when using structural timber, timber performance in fire, and connections and system performance. You can access all the recordings from the webinars on TDUK’s YouTube channel here.

2022’s challenge has focused on the creation of a community building in Hereford. Constructed primarily from timber or timber hybrid systems, it will be designed to Passivhaus Standard and specified to exceed the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge and LETI Climate Emergency Design Guide targets.

The results of the challenge will be unveiled in a live final hosted at the new Centre for Advanced Timber Technology on July 22nd.

Meet the new Centre for Advanced Timber Technology

To meet the demand for a new generation of timber engineers, the new Centre for Advanced Timber Technology (CATT) at the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering (NMITIE) is due to open in summer 2022.

The educational approach of NMITE is to combine student-centric learning with a curriculum focused on real-world challenges. NMITE’s timber educational programme was developed in partnership with Edinburgh Napier University and the sector establishing a Timber Technology Engineering and Design (TED) competency framework which also informed the webinar content for this year’s TDUK Design Challenge.

Learning in a Living Lab

The Centre for Advanced Timber Technology (CATT) building has been designed to be a ‘living lab.’ This means the building will act as a live research centre, incorporating in-situ measurement of thermal, acoustic, and structural performance via a series of sensors and feedback mechanisms.

The team is working with Stora Enso, who supplied the cross-laminated timber for the building on the application of 48 sensors to collect data on moisture management. This data will be shared with industry professionals including insurance and warranty providers so the building itself can be used as an information source for the whole industry.

CATT will welcome its first cohort of students in September 2022.

Industry skills and traineeships

In April this year the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) People and Skills group set out goals for the industry to tackle the skills shortage across the construction industry which had a record of 50,000 vacancies in the first quarter of 2022.

Other highlights to the Industry Skills Plan Update include restoring apprentice starts to pre-COVID levels by next year, bringing about 3,000 starts on a skills bootcamp, securing 1,700 active construction STEM ambassadors, and delivering 28,000 work-experience taster sessions. These initiatives aim to attract more young people to the industry, showcasing the range and breadth of career opportunities the sector can offer.

Render of the Centre. 📷 - Courtesy of Wood for Good.

Render of the Centre. 📷 – Courtesy of Wood for Good.

Working together to provide support and education

The timber industry offers a wide range of resources and initiatives to ensure that current and future generations have the knowledge and skills to enable the construction sector to benefit from the host of applications timber can offer.

In April, the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) launched ‘Our industry’s next generation’ – a new campaign to champion the role of apprentices in woodworking and joinery manufacturing and highlight the diversity of career opportunities in the industry.

Confor, the Confederation of Forestry Industries, also aims to attract new talent into the industry and offers information and advice for those considering a career in the forestry sector.

Formed from the merger of the Timber Trade Federation and TRADA, TDUK aims to provide both education and support for and about the timber industry for all stakeholders in the construction sector. You can sign up for TDUK’s regular series of events here and you can access TDUK’s series of online courses and technical guides here.

Wood Campus is another excellent resource for all those working in the timber industry. From architectural training through to DIY skills, the website provides a range of expert advice and learning resources, including RIBA and BIID accredited CPD programmes.

Meanwhile, the Structural Timber Association (STA) continues to drive quality and product innovation through expert technical guidance and research which is underpinned by education, training, and event programmes. The organisation runs regular events and a series of technical guides can be found on its website.

The Trussed Rafter Association (TRA) offers a range of technical guidance for the correct specification, handling and installation of trussed rafters, spandrel panels and metal web joists.

Finally, the Wood Protection Association (WPA) offers detailed technical advice on wood modification, preservation, and flame retardants, showcasing how timber can be enhanced for even more applications throughout the sector.

It’s not just the industry that can offer advice and resources, timber construction enthusiasts, Kiss House, recently collated information, thought-pieces and resources on working with wood, and you can access them on their website here.

The future is timber

The Government is committed to increasing the use of timber in construction and recently formed the Timber in Construction Policy Roadmap Working Group, a cross-departmental working group chaired by Zac Goldsmith, with a remit to develop a ‘roadmap’ for timber which will be published later this year.

As the applications of timber continue to grow, it is essential that we invest in training and development for current and future generations of timber professionals. The industry offers a vast array of interesting and rewarding careers and bringing the next generation with us on this journey will be essential as we continue to grow and thrive.

As Laura Batty from engineering consultancy Heyne Tillett Steel said when we interviewed her last year, “…learn to design and build in timber! It will have a big role to help the construction industry and the built environment transition to net zero, and we need all the timber experts we can get!”