Looking above the canopy - Forestry and Environment Careers Night

29 May 2019

When you’re studying hard for a degree it can be easy to get caught up with your assignments and what you are directly studying here and now, rather than what a career might look like once you graduate.

Yet sometimes there can be some really valuable learning that comes from meeting with and talking face to face with those in the industry that you’re studying to be a part of.

At the start of May the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA at ANU) held their first ‘Forestry and Environment Careers Night’, a networking and information evening for students to learn about pursuing a career in the forestry industry. The event featured a number of representatives from the spheres of government and the commercial forestry industry, who gave guest presentations and then met with students for group discussions and networking opportunities - all with aim of showing how future graduates can pursue a career.

“I think it’s really important for students to actually meet with industry leaders to build their career,” said Karen Khoo, one of the IFSA coordinators of the event.

“Initial perceptions are often quite different to what reality can be, in terms of working in the job – so actually asking someone who is working in the industry what their day looks like or what kind of things they are looking for when they interview people can be really different to what students might originally perceive,” Karen said.

Another organizer Yulia Cuthbertson backed up Karen’s thoughts, stating that having the chance to talk with professionals allows for the start of some important conversations.

“This particular night allowed students to have a broader vision of the forestry industry. They had a unique chance to meet these people in person and start building their networks,” Yulia said.

The guest speakers expanded on a number of themes during their presentations, including what their agency or company did, what they can offer graduates or international students, and what the current trends are that the industry is working through and experiencing. Not all companies have graduate programs, so this was also an opportunity for those in the industry to meet with their peers and see what each other offer in this space.

A unique aspect of the event was the inclusion of a ‘World Café’, a discussion format designed for hosting large group dialogue. This structured conversational process allows for groups of people to discuss a topic at several tables, with individuals switching tables and being introduced to the previous discussion at their new table by a ‘table host’.

Karen said that some students responded well to the format, especially those who didn’t have any industry experience and are still deciding on what their career should be.

“It was a really good way for students to engage with a discussion they could directly relate to, especially those who were a bit shyer. I did see a fair few students hang around after the World Café, engaging with industry people,” Karen said.

One comment heard from a variety of students was that they didn’t know so many companies existed, working on various projects in the forestry field.

Fenner student and ISFA organiser Jia Yi Chew said it’s important for students to know the importance of soft skills, and the ability to go beyond what is written in job descriptions.

“What I heard was that the industry is looking for is employees with people skills, and how to work with others in a team, not just having knowledge in the field.”

The IFSA organisers echoed the remarks made by Professor Saul Cunningham about the importance of students doing their own research, and reaching out to contact companies themselves.

“I think some of the advice that Saul gave was really important, about being open minded in how to approach a career, going to networking events, and taking on work experience – not just applying for a graduate program which is only one pathway,” Karen said.

“Don’t be afraid to contact people, and don’t leave it until the last minute as well. If there’s a company you’d particularly like to work for, there’s nothing wrong with approaching them and asking them what are the skills they’re looking for or asking ‘how can I seek out those opportunities now?’”