February 23, 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.
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
College of Agricultural SciencesWebsite
Charles Ruffner Ph.D.: In natural resource management, there is still a huge need to be in the field managing resources. However, much of our duties entail meeting with the public, granting, agencies, etc. so thus all people should be capable of working remotely on various platforms.
Charles Ruffner Ph.D.: ANY certification for wildland fire fighting, prescribed burn use, soil conservation, etc are all valuable certs to have in one's toolbox. Others include chainsaw use, small engine maintenance like leaf blowers and UTV's .
Pennsylvania State University
Department of Ecosystem Science and ManagementWebsite
Ellen Rom: I do not have enough information to identify trends. I do know several of our forestry students experienced a loss or modification of internship opportunities last summer due to the pandemic. I have not seen a downturn in forestry opportunities for this coming summer or for permanent positions.
Ellen Rom: For land management positions, GIS skills are important as, of course, is plant identification. Evidence of leadership, teamwork, problem solving, and good communication skills are important regardless of field of interest.
Ellen Rom: Where there are forested landscapes (or simply trees in urban areas), there are opportunities for forestry graduates. We continue to receive job announcements from areas across the country.
Feather River College
Bridget Tracy: I have not noticed a lot of impact for the 2021 summer season. Many job announcements have come through, and it does not seem that agencies and companies are holding back in filling these positions for the upcoming field season.
Bridget Tracy: I think the most important thing on a resume is a professional layout with no typos and grammatical errors. So, proofread! Beyond that, I always recommend that students include a section about skills they possess as well as a section about course work. That way, even if they don't have much paid work in these areas, they can showcase the skills they have learned in courses. They might list tools they have used, like DBH tapes, Biltmore sticks, GPS units, ArcGIS etc.
Bridget Tracy: I live in the Sierra Nevada and find that there are lots of work opportunities in this region. Many employers send me info about potential jobs for students. I don't hear about as many in other regions, but I imagine that similar opportunities exist in all the regions where we have forests.
Chris Stockdale: Be open to various opportunities, and take chances on occupations and locations that you may not have considered before. Many of our opportunities are rural, even remote locations, near our national forests and grasslands. You may have studied environmental sustainability, agriculture, or natural resource management - but we need many forestry technicians to work in our timber programs and learn how we carefully manage (to include harvest and timber sales) our natural resources in a sustainable way. You may have a degree in geology, physics, or other physical sciences - we need engineering technicians to help with forest roads and other environmental projects. Your first position likely will not be your last position with us; starting a career with us, you will have the opportunity to grow and contribute in several ways. Your first job with us is building on a foundation that can help get you where you want to be professionally, and you may not even know where that is yet.
Chris Stockdale: Many of our professional occupations require specific post-secondary degrees and course selection; engineers, foresters, rangeland managers, wildlife biologists, to name just a few. Our technicians may or may not have specific post-secondary education, though it always helps. Regardless - all of our new employees need to be proficient in technology. We see classes in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and another remote sensing often for a wide variety of natural resources focused degree programs and occupations. Proficiency with common spreadsheet and database software is essential, as most occupations move towards data-driven analysis and decision making. A real emerging technology in natural resources work involves Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones for sampling detection. Any courses or experience there can be helpful.
Chris Stockdale: We are the federal government serving as public servants. Our salaries cannot always compete with the private industry, especially at entry-levels. Many of our recent graduates start at 16 to 22 dollars an hour, depending on location and occupation, but many positions have promotion potential. We have excellent benefits for permanent employees, including both defined benefits (pensions) and defined contribution (401K style with match) retirement plans. We have excellent health and dental plan options. Depending on how aggressive you are in applying for promotions - considering geographic options and mobility - we always have internal opportunities and a need to develop technical and scientific experts, supervisors, program managers, and leaders. When we hire new graduates, we like to think we may be hiring future District Rangers, Forest Supervisors, or even a Chief of the Forest Service. There is potential for many to eventually earn annual salaries of $60,000-$90,000. GS-14 and GS-15 senior managers earn annual salaries over $100,000, but that will take time, continuous development, and years of hard work.
The Forest Stewards Guild
Colleen Robinson: Some Forest Stewards Guild Professional Members have shared with current students in forestry that communicating clearly, and the ability to relate with and partner with landowners and land managers is an essential skill that is often times overlooked in our field. That may be even more important this year, as communicating has become more difficult and restricted.
Colleen Robinson: As for good places to find work opportunities, I'd say students should subscribe to e-newsletters with organizations they believe in, such as Forest Stewards Guild, and also pay attention to who is showing up at job fairs, etc with internship opportunities when they are still in school and follow up with them after graduation too. So many places offer job posts with a collection of opportunities to learn about. It somewhat depends on if they are interested in NGOs, government agency work, industry, etc. too. As far as geography, I think forestry is everywhere, in one sense or another. Forestry in New Mexico looks different than it does in upstate New York, but its still forestry.