Young people have a key role to play in forestry at a time when the importance of trees is coming to the forefront, both in the UK and globally, according to the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF).
The Institute’s recent National Conference in Oxford put young professionals centre stage with a number of them chairing sessions and four inspirational speakers from Canada, the UK and Germany giving an insight into what can be done to help youngsters find out what opportunities are available.
Meanwhile, young professional Kerstin Leslie, MICFor, a Forest Manager with Tilhill Forestry based in the South West of Scotland, was elected by members to the ICF’s Council, its governing body.
“The final session at the conference focussed on young professionals and we heard from some inspiring young women. Innovations in technology and advances in concepts like sustainability are happening so fast, I think it is important that the younger generation’s voice is heard to help us all embrace change,” Kerstin said.
Among the young professionals taking on a role at the conference were Charles Robinson, MICFor, a chartered forester with Forwoods Forestry and Woodlands Consultancy, based in Staffordshire. It was the first time he had been asked to chair a conference session and he believes it was an important step for a young professional and overall the conference gave him a wider perspective that he does not always see in his day to day work.
“We must be aware of the wider context in which we operate. As professionals if we become siloed in our work, then we will only undo all the good work of recent decades to shine a more positive light on sustainable forestry. There are many facets to UK forestry and that why it is such an exciting industry to be involved in,” he said.
Shireen Chambers, FICFor, Executive Director of the ICF said: “Forestry as a sector is buoyant right now and young people are in high demand. The ICF is leading in terms of encouraging them to have professional qualifications. We wanted to showcase the ideas and enthusiasm of young professionals in our sector and asked them to tell us how to inspire the next generation. The feedback has been fantastic.
“We were lucky to have four very inspirational speakers who were able to give an insight into what needs to be done to boost forestry as a career. Anyone entering the sector is doing so at a hugely exciting time as the general public becomes more aware of the importance of trees in terms of carbon capture and health and well-being.”
One of the next generation speakers was Lacey Rose, a registered professional forester in the County of Renfrew in Ontario, Canada, who explained how as a girl she thought cutting down trees was bad. “But I met people who encouraged me to ask questions and not believe everything I read or heard. I took the time to learn about forest management and my degree at UNB (University of New Brunswick) led me to become intrigued by the problem solving needed and the complexity of managing a forest in a sustainable way,” she said.
She takes every chance that she can to go into schools and talk about the opportunities available in forestry. She highlighted the importance of having a mentor and how even after several years working as a forester she still finds it useful to have someone to bounce ideas off. “I would encourage people to be a mentor and get a mentor. Take the time to share your knowledge as not everything can be learned from a book,” she told the conference.
“Don’t be shy. Ask someone to be your mentor, they won’t say no. You can make people want to help you by being keen. On the other hand, if someone needs help then kindness makes an impact, it encourages. I was an underdog but people took a chance with me,” she added.
Jemima Letts, an ICF Student Member and a final year forestry undergraduate at the University of Bangor, gave an insight into how to communicate with young people, suggesting that as they spend a lot of time ‘glued to a screen’, then understanding the ‘indoor generation’ is the key to getting messages to them, but she admitted that her friends thought she was ‘mad’ looking to forestry as a career.
“A lack of awareness and understanding of forestry and the careers available means they are not promoted,” she said, but pointed out that it also is not just about studying for a degree in forestry as young people also need practical and business skills. This is why she founded Tree Sparks, a student-led social enterprise which wants to show young peoples that working with trees can be exciting and awesome, with the aim of increasing awareness of forestry careers. “Instead of trying to teach students important skills, Tree Sparks wants to give them first-hand experience in a business setting. It also wants to show them that environmental careers are rewarding and viable,” she said.
The conference also heard from ICF Associate Member Angelika Końko about how she took a different path into the sector as she does not have a degree in forestry but a BSc in environmental protection from Jagiellonian University in Krakow and an MSc in Ecotourism from Edinburgh Napier University. She started her career with the Forestry Commission’s Graduate Development Programme, a two year training scheme for people with the potential to become future leaders, and spoke at the conference as a leader of the 2050 Climate Group, a global initiative for young people to take action on climate change.
She explained that forestry as a profession has all the credentials that research among young people suggest they want, such as ‘green jobs’, sustainability, diversity, flexibility, values and ethics. “Being involved in the graduate programme sparked my passion for forestry and the message I have is that young people really do care about the environment, about climate change and the future and need to be aware of the opportunities available in forestry.”
Lisa Prior, Vice President of the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA), told the conference about the importance of students taking learning beyond the classroom and also of networking on a global scale. Like Lacey, she believes in a strong relationship between young professionals starting out in their career and those with senior experience, with mentors being a key part of this. She praised the ICF for including so many young people in the conference in terms of chairing sessions and speaking.