March 2, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
New Mexico Highlands University
Department of Forestry
Dr. Joshua Sloan Ph.D.: Based on my experience, I don't expect the pandemic to have much long-term impact on job market trends for foresters. Although the safety precautions and social distancing requirements enacted during the pandemic have greatly complicated the delivery of forestry education, this has generally been less of a challenge for foresters that are already in the workforce or who are just entering the workforce. Employers in the forestry sector have continued to hire and train new employees throughout the pandemic, and the pandemic has not impacted placement rates so far for students graduating from my department with a forestry degree over the past twelve months.
The biggest short-term impact I've seen is that students graduating from a forestry program during the pandemic have had a slightly steeper and more difficult learning curve upon entering the workforce because the onboarding and new employee training processes are mostly being conducted remotely now, which I've heard has been difficult for many newly-hired forestry graduates. Most forestry programs consistently high placement rates and have for many years. This isn't likely to change any time soon, and we expect the demand for foresters to continue to increase as efforts to mitigate climate change and related severe disturbances (e.g., catastrophic wildfires) through reforestation and better forest management ramp up.
Dr. Joshua Sloan Ph.D.: With regard to technical skills, most employers in the forestry sector look for applicants with a B.S. in Forestry from a program accredited by the Society of American Foresters (SAF). Graduating from an SAF-accredited program ensures that students receive training in the baseline technical skills that will be expected of them in any forestry position. It's also increasingly common for employers to look for applicants with skills related to geographic information systems (GIS), which is essentially high-end mapping and spatial analysis software. Any SAF-accredited forestry program would require students to learn the basics of GIS, but taking additional coursework or pursuing credentials in GIS would often make an applicant more competitive.
There is also a tremendous lack of foresters with forest restoration and regeneration expertise in North America, and relatively few forestry schools currently focus much on these areas. I expect individuals with this set of skills and expertise to be in increasing demand in the coming years as we attempt to help our forests adapt to climate change and major ecological disturbances. Aside from these forestry-specific skills, two of the skill-sets most sought after by employers include good communication skills and good critical thinking skills. I would encourage any student or recent graduate to work on developing their writing, speaking, and problem-solving skills because these are the skills that employers constantly tell us they're looking for and not finding often enough.
Dr. Joshua Sloan Ph.D.: It's difficult to talk about salary trends in the forestry sector in a general way because the sector is so broad and diverse, covering everything from sawyers and equipment operators on one end of the spectrum to researchers and administrators on the other. As with many sectors, the overall trend in the forestry sector has been toward wage growth over time, but the rate and magnitude of this growth have varied tremendously by region and job type, so I would encourage individuals interested in a career in forestry to do their own investigation of salary and employment trends for the region and job types they're interested in. Having said that, probably the most lucrative group of jobs for entry-level foresters today lies in the field of wildland firefighting. We've seen increasing numbers of large, catastrophic forest fires in recent years as a result of climate change and other causes, and this trend is likely to continue into the foreseeable future and continue to require large numbers of wildland firefighters, many of which get their start in SAF-accredited forestry programs.
North Carolina State University
College of Natural ResourcesWebsite
Sam Cook: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted labor markets globally during 2020. The short-term consequences were sudden and often severe: Some people in our profession were furloughed but a majority of people adjusted to working from home, satellite facilities as offices closed. Many foresters and natural resource professions were deemed essential and continued to work in the field and from other external field facilities outside. I see a strong demand for timber to produce lumber and paper products. The increase in lumber prices did not pass down to the landowner for stumpage. I really think our profession was very visual during this pandemic, especially for those who needed more space to get outdoors. I saw increased building/remodeling projects, use of forest lands, parks, and other recreational areas.
Sam Cook: Soft skills required by our graduates: reading comprehension/writing/speaking/active listening, monitoring, critical thinking, time management, complex problem solving, and social perceptiveness
Sam Cook: Salaries have increased significantly since my entry point into the business in 1985.
University of Minnesota
Department of Forest ResourcesWebsite
Marcella Windmuller-Campione Ph.D.: During the pandemic, some folks have really connected back to their local environments - parks, natural areas, and multiple forms of recreation. It has put a spotlight on how important nature is and I think there is interest in ensuring forests are and will continue to be forests. We may see more individuals entering school for degrees in forestry and environmental science. In terms of the job market, that may be variable. Some forest products have been critical during the pandemic (and will continue after) and that requires sound management. However, governmental budgets may be tighter.
Marcella Windmuller-Campione Ph.D.: Communication - communication about how and why forests are managed. This is critical to be able to tell the story of forestry (which is not just logging) but forestry as a science that incorporates multiple disciplines (soils, hydrology, tree growth, wildlife) when developing and making management decisions. There are a lot of moving pieces that a forester needs to consider and also needs to be able to share with multiple audiences.
Marcella Windmuller-Campione Ph.D.: Many foresters (but not all of them) live in more rural areas with lower costs of living compared to other regions. Salaries have always been competitive with other disciplines. I have heard of some forestry companies recently offering signing bonuses to new forestry professionals - this is a direct reflection of the need for well trained foresters in our society.
Department of Forestry and Environmental ConservationWebsite
Patrick Hiesl Ph.D.: Foresters often work alone or with another forester in secluded or remote areas. The pandemic thus had a smaller impact on that part of the forestry profession and while the job market offered fewer jobs than usual for a while, in the past few months I have seen an increase in forester job postings across the US. While foresters may have an office space with a given company, I believe that we will see more flexibility in the future with home offices. During the pandemic we all have shifted to virtual meetings and working remotely as much as we can. Field foresters and consulting foresters probably see the least change of all after the pandemic. Less field intensive foresters such as industrial procurement foresters or GIS foresters will probably see the greatest changes after the pandemic. Many job functions have been moved to the cloud or online to allow for remote access. Foresters will still have to live close to the resources they manage, so I don't think we will see foresters living too far away from their respective companies. To summarize this, I believe there will be no significant trends or changes in the job market, besides a greater flexibility for working remotely.
Patrick Hiesl Ph.D.: The one skill that repeatedly is asked for by employers is a working knowledge of spreadsheets, and in many cases the use of pivot tables. Forestry includes a lot of number crunching and spreadsheets really help to organize and streamline that process. Other technical skills include a solid foundation in timber cruising techniques, both on paper, and with digital data recorders. While nobody expects new employees to be familiar with all technology, employers are looking for people that can easily adapt to new tools and build on their existing skills.
Patrick Hiesl Ph.D.: This is a challenging question, as it depends on the goals and interests of the college graduate. Forestry consists of many specialized fields and employers can be federal or state governments, non-profit organizations, private industry, and others. Some of my students are interested in working for the federal government, so a job with the US Forest Service would be good for them. The US Forest Service offers a wide range of employment opportunities across the US and if someone is interested in working in many different parts of the US, working for the US Forest Service may be the right thing for them. I also have many students that wish to work for the state forest service or forestry commission. Similar to the US Forest Service, the state forest service or forestry commission can offer a wide range of employment opportunities, all within one state. If a college graduate is interested in working with private forest owners to manage their timberland, then a job with a consulting forestry firm is the right choice for them. Wood procurement is a large field within forestry and college graduates can find employment with wood dealers or with large industrial companies. Working for a wood dealer typically includes a lot of time traveling and searching for wood to buy. It also includes a lot of different forms of communication and interacting with potential customers. Industrial procurement on the other side is done by large industrial companies at their local mill level. Many of the industrial procurement foresters spend most of their time on the phone and in front of a computer. More numbers are crunched to provide their suppliers with accurate prices that the company can afford to pay. If a college graduate is more inclined to work in an office then outside, an industrial procurement job is the right fit. There are also many more employment options out there and it all depends on the goals and objectives of the college graduate. This is also why it is important for students to work internships during the summers, to help them figure out what they are really interested in.
Forestry and Environmental Conservation DepartmentWebsite
Patricia Layton: I hope that we will not see an impact. We did have slightly fewer internships available last summer and we delayed our summer required forestry courses (other schools did not delay). I think though that the "aging out" of foresters continue and we are still in a shortage situation for this major. This was considered essential work under the covid rules and most that I know of were relatively healthy during the past year.
Patricia Layton: Being able to be a registered forester in SC (and we have a concentration area for surveyors also) as they require specific course work.
Patricia Layton: Good communication skills, oral and written. The ability to work well with others and to interact well with people who own forests. Common sense is also really needed.