Evaluation report of the Skills for the Future project (2011-2015)

The Heritage Lottery Funded Skills for the Future training programme was a four year project that had a simple aim - to provide individuals with the relevant skills, qualifications and opportunities to fill the heritage skills gaps within the conservation sector.  4 Trainees commenced their training year in February 2011, followed by a further cohort of 4 in February of 2012.  The success of the project, not just in Dorset but across the programme, led to an increase in capacity and 8 traineeships per year were funded for 2013 and 2014.

Identifying the skills gap

It was important that the project didn't simply provide a great opportunity for a lucky few to have an enjoyable year of training.  Of prime importance was addressing any skills gaps within the conservation sector.  Notably, it had become only too clear that although there were always plenty of applications for practical jobs at Dorset Wildlife Trust, often there would be very few that had the relevant heritage skills and experience to be succesful.  It was there that the initial focus was placed.  A programme was therefore established that would lead to a trainee completing their year with a full set of qualifications and experience such that they would be in a position to fill the gaps identified in the rural skills sector, with little or no further training needs.

Selection of trainees

With the traineeship providing all the qualifications and skills required for a promising future in the sector, it was accepted that there should be no formal educational or qualification entry requirements.  The main consideration when selecting individuals was their enthusiasm, their commitment and to some extent, their personal qualities.  These qualities are not something that can be easily built in one year, but are essential in gaining employment in the future.  Whilst there were formal interview sessions involved in the selection process, perhaps  the best source of information on each candidate came from feedback from mentors leading group activities or even through discussion during breaks/lunch.   Selected trainees worked within one of 4 teams, and it was important that the teams had a significant part to play in selecting 'their' trainee as it built confidence and strong ties from the very start of the traineeship.  

The training year

Training was delivered through a variety of means. Formal qualifications such as Chainsaw, Brushcutter etc were gained through courses run by Dorset Training Group.  First, aid, Health & safety, Forest Schools and other such qualifications were gained through other external training providers.  These qualifications were then consolidated by work carried out within the relevant teams across Dorset Wildlife Trust.

In-house training provided the opportunity to learn from the wealth of experience offered by staff. Built in to these activities were the common themes or working methods such as risk assessments, training plans, meeting delivery targets and engagement activities.  As part of presonal development training, the focus was on soft skills such as empathy, assertiveness, interview techniques and low level coaching.

Trainees were able to work and train together several times per month, to confirm and build their working relationships as a team.  Such training was often built into an identification and survey workshop, with trainees gaining valuable experience in a wide variety of species.  The trainee team days proved to be particularly valuable as the year progressed, as each felt able to support and assist other trainees as the need arose.

Trainees were encouraged to share their experiences on a number of social media platforms, and the Dorset Wildlife Trust Trainees blog is well worth a read for some excellent examples of the training successes over the course of the 4 year project.

The results!

Several trainees were able to progress directly into employmemnt within the conservation sector before completing their full traineeship year.  This resulted in the opportunity to create shorter length traineeships, thereby providing further development for individuals that had already gained some qualifications/skills.  As a result, the Dorset Wildlife Trust Skills for the Future programme has been able to train a total of 31 individuals over the course of the 4 years.

A downloadable copy of the final evaluation report can be found here.

We have maintained contact with all of our trainees, continuing to offer support and guidance as well as keeping up with the latest news in the various careers.  Success of the programme can be easily measured through employment within the conservation skills sector.  Currently sitting at almost 94%, it is clear that our trainees are highly employable!  Comments from prospective employers has reinforced this view:

"It is refreshing to read an application from someone who not only meets our skills criteria, but also has gained valuable experience and consolidation of such skills"

Case studies

Nikki Hesketh Roberts was one of the 2012 trainees. She had previously spent a number of years in an office environment but wanted to pursue a career in conservation. After volunteering with the Dorset Wildlife Trust she made the decision to apply for a traineeship position with the Urban & East Dorset team, based at the Urban Widlife Centre. 


 “During my year as a trainee I enjoyed working in the countryside, seeing lots of different habitats and species and developing my identification skills” 

 “I also liked putting the chainsaw and brushcutter training into practice, working with volunteers and corporate groups and giving talks and guided walks”

 “The Skills for the Future programme  provided training and opportunities for me that I otherwise would not have been able to access”

After succesfully completing her traineeship, Nikki was quickly able to gain employment in the sector as a Countryside Ranger.  She has since moved into an ecologist role, and is firmly established in her new career.

Jess Tilley was one of the 2011 trainees, and was working as an office temp when she got the call to confirm that she had been accepted as one of the first trainees of the new programme.  She threw herself into her training year with huge amounts of enthusiasm and a smile that never left her face!


Cohort 1 (Megan, Jess, Becky, John)

"I absolutely loved my training year, and learnt so much from everyone"

"I thought I was stuck in a career of office work, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to get away from that into my dream job of being a Ranger"

"It's such a great feeling to know that I'm able to play my part in ensuring that our rural heritage is not lost" 

Jess initially worked as a self employed conservation contractor, before progressing into wardening roles in East Dorset.  She is now working as a Ranger, based at the Moors Valley Country Park near Verwod.

More information

For further information on the programme, please contact the Skills for the Future Manager on 01305 264620 or email

 Watch a video of the 2011 Trainees Jess and Megan on their last day.HLF logo black


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