By Andrea Watts
How do we recruit people into the forestry and the natural resources profession? That is the fundamental question when it comes to workforce development. Those of us in the profession know how we ended up here. Many foresters say their childhood experiences of playing in the woods, hunting and fishing, or visiting relatives who owned forestland is why they chose to study forestry in college. Yet for others it was job shadowing and imagining themselves as forester.
I did grow up playing in the woods and decided in the fifth grade to be a wolf biologist. The results of an aptitude test placed me in the science career track in high school, yet my freshmen English teacher encouraged my writing ability. I also realized I didn’t want to work outside—a prerequisite for being a wolf biologist—so I decided to be a technical writer. After graduating from college, I found myself working for state government. Five years into my career in records management, I returned to school to study restoration ecology before transitioning into forestry. In graduate school, I gravitated toward communication and writing classes and realized that while I enjoy field work, I prefer working in an office. Fortunately, science writing allows me to combine my passion and work style preferences.
What my experience has shown me is that we must be mindful of two things. First, showcase the diversity of the careers available in the forestry and natural resources professions. All too often, forestry and natural resources is depicted as an outdoor profession, yet there is valuable indoor work. Computer science powers all the software we use, and outreach connects the public with our work. Second, don’t focus solely on recruiting youth to join the profession. There are people who will change careers and find a job that aligns with their passion.
In this issue, there are a number of articles that will spark discussions of new approaches to workforce development or refining existing programs. Angela Noah shares her experience with Northwest Youth Corps and how to recruit Native youth, while Heidi Smith discusses the Educating for a Green Economy (EGE) Project and key project findings for connecting youth to green jobs. And Rex Storm explains how industry and contractors can reinvest in the forestry workforce.
Thank you to the authors who contributed the articles that you will read and to the SAF members and advertisers whose financial support makes producing the Western Forester possible.