From Critical Occupation to Future in Innovation


An interview with Wood Technology lecturers Reinhilde Vanlishout & Stin Van Ende

The last few years there’s been much talk about critical occupations in the wood(craft) industry. A shortage of employees, but no shortage of job vacancies. Little interest and influx of young people in the industry. We tackled these big topics in an inspiring conversation with Reinhilde Vanlishout, head of education at the Wood Technology department of HoGent, and Stine Van Ende, lecturer Wood Technology at HoGent. These two ladies, together more than 60 years of experience and expertise combined!
“These days we’re using words like ‘critical occupations’ when it comes to certain jobs in the wood(craft) industry. Companies are having a hard time at finding workforce and young people aren’t finding their way to the industry while there’s so much to love about and it holds a great deal of future perspective”, Reinhilde starts.
The biggest issue is the outdated image of the wood(craft) industry and the many prejudices about it (Reinhilde Vanlishout)
“I often hear parents say “Woodwork training is easy”, they feel reluctant to have their children start their education within the woodcraft industry. They forget one needs specific skills to work with wood and fall prey to the general, societal perception that manual and technical labor are inferior to other jobs, while this is definitely not true and there is so much more to the wood(craft) industry than what people seem to think”, says Reinhilde.
One could say Reinhilde Vanlishout has grown up in the wood(craft) industry. She’s been head of the Wood Technology department at HoGent for 10 years and previously worked in wood import trade for 30 years. She’s seen change, been part of it and strongly believes in the power and appeal of the industry she loves so much.
“Our students who graduate as bachelors in Wood Technology are highly sought after on the job market. Nearly all of our graduates immediately find jobs when they finish school, if they haven’t found one already before they even graduate. Some even have several job offers to choose from”, Stine Van Ende, lecturer, continues.
“I think our main issues lie in our educational system, its organisation, the image of the industry and the general perception of the public”, Stine says. 
People seem to think that a job in the wood(craft) industry is synonym with being a craftsman and carpenter, but it’s so much more than that! (Stine Van Ende)
Both ladies agree that the industry should speak more about its innovative power, its strength when it comes to the adoption of new technologies, automation and robotisation and the sustainability philosophy that forms part of the DNA of the industry as a whole.
“Working with wood truly holds great future potential”, Mrs. Vanlishout says. “Wood as a primary material is beautiful, diverse and allows a career in a world that is multilayered and versatile. One can be an interior designer, a made-to-measure carpenter, a wood technologist, researcher and so on”.
“And have a guarantee of finding a job even in these uncertain times”, Stine Van Ende adds.
On a societal level you can really make a positive impact with studying Wood Technology, for example, both ladies agree. 
The wood(craft) industry is not just a craftsman industry, it’s high-tech and supports a sustainable product. For those who value a sustainable philosophy there are many opportunities to contribute to the change our world needs when it comes to climate change solutioneering (Reinhilde Vanlishout)
“I think perception needs to change on many levels”, Stine Van Ende says. “We’re also still dealing with this old misconception that a career in the industry is only for boys, that it’s a man’s world, while this is entirely untrue. This image makes that few girls find their way into STEM education where great futures lie for them too!”.
Stine Van Ende continues: “We have to educate students, of course, but we also need to teach the teachers, parents, companies, the industry and even society as a whole”.
Both ladies agree that changes on different levels are necessary. They believe the industry should invest more in new technologies and strengthening its position and image of being an innovator and pioneer when it comes to technological development and solutions. This will require collaborations between companies, but also between industry and the educational system.
We have to train our teachers so they stay updated. Things are evolving quickly. Our education system needs to move with its time, learn about our fast changing world and adapt to it (Reinhilde Vanlishout)
Woodcraft - Sourced on Pinterest
“Another point of attention is legislation. The EU Commission is installing new laws regarding sustainability and circularity, the industry and our educational system need to inform themselves on this too”, Mrs. Van Ende says. “There needs to be coaching and training for companies regarding these topics as well. A lot of companies seem to have a hard time figuring out what’s coming their way very soon”.
A lot to talk about. A lot of questions, but also a lot of answers if you ask these two ladies, passionate about their industry and young generations. A bright future ahead for an industry with great potential, but unfortunately a bad rep, if focus can shift to sharing about the obvious strengths of the wood(craft) world.
Innovative. Highly technological. Focus on sustainability. Leading role in the world of tomorrow. Feeling for collaborations. Career paths for both boys and girls. Promising for youngsters making their way to the job market. What’s not to love?
Thank you Reinhilde Vanlishout and Stine Van Ende for allowing us a look into your more than 60 years of experience and expertise in the wood(craft) industry and education.