BWF takes fight to Parliament to save joinery apprenticeships

16 September 2016

The British Woodworking Federation (BWF) took its fight to save joinery apprenticeships to the House of Commons’ Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy this week.

Speaking alongside the CBI, the TUC and the Local Government Association, BWF Chief Executive Iain McIlwee gave evidence as part of the committee’s inquiry into apprenticeships.

Iain highlighted the benefits that woodworking apprenticeships were bringing and the high level of take up within the industry, but questioned new funding arrangements.

The inquiry gave BWF an opportunity to air the sector’s views on areas such as trailblazers, new industry-led standards and government proposals that could discourage joinery companies from taking on apprentices. Raising concerns that commercial pressures on colleges were leading to short termism, Iain (front bench, right) told MPs:

“If we’re forcing colleges to behave like businesses, we’re forcing them to think in shorter periods of time, fundamentally upsetting the relationship we have.”

“How does it cover the capital investment of the equipment required. How does it fund woodworking as a course when you’re looking at the cost between a work bench and a workstation.”

“We’ve seen the erosion of woodworking in schools, and now we’re starting to see the same in colleges.”


When questioned as to how woodworking could boost training standards and attract the quality of apprentices it needed, Iain McIlwee told the Committee:

“It starts way before we even worry about colleges, it starts back in the way schools and careers advice is given, the infrastructure by which people understand the industries that are available to them.”

“What we’re looking at here is how we develop rewarding careers that add productivity into our business and everybody wins…. we need to develop and evolve our skills base.”

“If you can develop your own and produce the people you need, then that’s incentive itself. What we fundamentally lack is the infrastructure to deliver it at the moment and that’s where we should be working more effectively with colleges”


The BWF has long articulated and lobbied for its vision of a fully trained, qualified and professional workforce for the woodworking industry, and its members are highly committed to apprenticeships.

In the BWF’s latest training survey, over 60% of members indicated that they have at least one apprentice and about 50% intend to take on apprentices over the next 12 months. This is consistent with CITB figures which show there is one apprentice for every two BWF members registered with CITB – this is the highest in the specialist trades.

Central to the BWF’s action plan for 2016/17 is a determination to finalise and launch the new apprenticeship in architectural joinery, to replace the old bench joinery apprenticeship. This aims to provide employers and new entrants to the industry with a higher quality qualification and greater flexibility of training.

Work is progressing as quickly as possible on the employer-led ‘Standard’ which is required to get this new qualification into the market.

The next task will be the development of the wood product manufacturing apprenticeship, also with its own Standard, which will serve the medium and large end of the joinery market.

You can watch the Apprenticeships evidence session on Parliament’s website here  and read the transcript of Iain McIlwee and colleagues addressing the apprenticeship committee here

To find out more about BWF’s work on apprenticeships, including course details and information on employing an apprentice, visit:


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