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Preparing for life after your course



Preparing for life after your course

About the Author

Tombowen Blog Wn 010419

Tom Bowen is Land and Environment lecturer at Shuttleworth College (part of the Bedford College Group) and City and Guilds Assessor and Apprentice Internal Quality Assurance for Level 2 Environmental Conservation, Level 2 and 3 Horticulture and the Level 2 Arborist Pathway. He has been at Shuttleworth for about 10 years and was previously a climber.

Here he considers how students should be preparing for life after their course. 

The RFS’s Future Foresters Skills Day will be held at Shuttleworth College on Friday 4 October 2019 and is expected to attract students from all over the country with speakers  addressing skills gaps in the forestry, arboriculture and countryside sectors.Exhibitors will be demonstrating some of the latest equipment available to foresters. More details and to book your college students for the day here.


The changes in technology and techniques that have been seen in Forestry and Arboriculture even in the last 50 years have had massive impacts on the operatives working in the sector.

Development of more ergonomic machinery and techniques has allowed us to refine practice which hasn’t changed for decades, either felling and extracting timber on the forest floor or accessing the canopy and undertaking aerial work. Both have their foundation in many of the same principles from generations ago. 

The industry is ever changing and finding new or more innovative ways to perform the same tasks with more efficiency or increased accuracy, so how do you prepare for what is going to happen once you finish your course while the landscape keeps changing? 

In recent years, social media, the internet and the wide spread utilisation of relatively cheap cameras has allowed an amazing insight into different sectors which previously wouldn’t have been possible without huge expense and a passport. In one minute you can see someone traverse between 30m Palm trees in Fiji then watch someone felling Spruce in the forests of France with only a few clicks. But while this is fantastic, this is also a huge stumbling block for the new recruits into the industry.  The real world of work is in danger of becoming lost in an endless stream of visually amazing videos which show the glamorous side to the work and the real role that college leavers walk into is a very different job indeed.

The reality is that Forestry and Arboriculture are both incredibly demanding sectors which are probably unfairly rewarded for the level of risk involved.  To prepare for life after your course, you must be aware of the expectations of what you are going into. You should be prepared to start at the bottom and actually learn the skills in a real world setting. While it is undeniably great fun to be thinning compartments of beautifully straight softwoods in perfect conditions or swinging around a 25 metre broadleaf canopy in the sun, unless you are exceptionally lucky, these are unlikely to be your normal working life each and every day.

You should prepare to be working in driving rain or plummeting temperatures or in the middle of a heatwave on a site that insists on full PPE and hi-vis at all times, dragging all your equipment to work on a tree that looks like something out of a nightmare. You should prepare to be told by friends and family who drive £40,000 cars and earn £60k or £70k a year that your £500 quote to dismantle a tree over a greenhouse and a pond is far too expensive and should be cheaper.  You should be prepared to solve any number of problems in a day while making sure that you are staying compliant with Health and Safety guidelines.

What you should prepare for is a job which teaches you something every day. You should prepare to enter into a consistent state where you are striving to be better than you were. Prepare for a job where the worst thing that happens to you isn’t a disciplinary and being put on review, the worst case scenario could be a phone call to a family member. You should prepare for a job which has the potential to become a lifestyle. Be prepared to be responsible for the care and management of living organisms which could be thriving hundreds of years after you have ceased to exist. Be prepared to plant seedlings that you could never see reach maturity. 

In short, prepare to be amazed, humbled and taught on an almost daily level. This could be looking at trees which shouldn’t theoretically be standing, let alone growing, yet there they remain. It could be working with veteran trees or standing deadwood and seeing the vast ecosystem it is hosting and supporting and understanding its role in its environment. It could be managing veteran trees and woodlands sympathetically and responsibly to allow your grandchildren to appreciate something that was alive longer than any living creature on earth. Working with trees in any capacity will give you a lesson in almost every action and if you think it won’t, you’re not looking closely enough.

How do you prepare for what is going to happen to you after you finish your training? The answer is you don’t.  You can’t.  Because your training never really stops, you merely find more areas that should captivate you and drive you to a higher level in an effort to be better. Not just for you, but for the trees and areas that you are going into.