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Improving diversity and public perception of forest sector workforce for green recovery

Published: 11 November 2020

According to a new study published by the UNECE and FAO, altogether almost 4.3 million people work across the forest sector of North America, Europe and Central Asia; predominantly in Europe (51 percent), the United States and Canada (29 percent), the Russian Federation (14 percent) and Turkey (5 percent), with the remaining 1 percent split across countries in the region.

New job profiles have also emerged, related to sustainability targets, forest education and human recreation.

While the economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits of forests and resources they provide are well understood, much less is known about the specific profiles of forest workers and how they have been changing over time. This study fills a gap, as the scale and significance of those substantial changes in forestry jobs over the last decades has not been properly studied.  

The study reveals a significant decrease in the number of forest sector workers in Europe. In 2016, around 2,231,800 people were employed in forestry throughout Europe, a fall of 18 percent since 2008. In Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the transition to a market economy and dissolution of administrative systems resulted in considerable structural changes in employment in the forest sector, leading to a decrease of the overall forest sector workforce of 58 percent and 46 percent between 1990 and 2011. Women, young people, and minorities remain underrepresented in formal employment, and overrepresented in informal forest jobs.

It is not just the size of the workforce that has seen a significant transformation. The main change in forestry employment has been structural – from public to private sector, and from large, multi-purpose organizations, to a number of contractors. Since 2000, forest jobs in the public forest sector in Europe have declined by around 60 percent, while employment in the private forest sector has almost tripled. The forest management objectives also changed: once focused on wood harvesting, they now span over various forest functions, including ecosystem services.  

This novel focus means that nowadays, an increasing number of jobs in this sector relate to biodiversity conservation, forest education and recreation, ecotherapy, forest certification, and others. Such jobs are not always publicly perceived as forest jobs, nor counted towards official employment figures. Yet, it is these professions that are crucial to addressing emerging sectoral challenges and those that can stimulate the green recovery and a shift towards a sustainable, circular economy.

This study, building upon the previous publication exploring the future of jobs in the forest sector, underlines the need for a shift in the public perception of the forest sector as of one that offers modern career paths, which could help diversify the forest sector workforce by attracting more women, young people and minorities. This, in turn, would pave the way towards a more diverse and resilient workforce that will be central to building a more sustainable, green economy.  

The study is available for download here.

To learn more about UNECE and FAO work on green jobs please click here

The webinar featuring findings of this study took place on 14 October 2020. You can watch it here.


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