In celebration of 20 years of Forestry at WIT, we talk to Claire Howlin, forest management planner, Forestry Services Limited
The positive minded Claire Howlin has always loved nature and the great outdoors. Without realizing it at the time even the smell of sawn timber in her fathers and uncles workshop contributed to her passion for forestry.
When it was time for Claire to choose a course, she did a lot of research and looked at all the different courses but she found herself being drawn to Forestry. Claire sees her current job as a great opportunity and intends to keep growing and says:” Go for it. There is nothing to lose. If you enjoy the outdoors, forestry will really suit you”.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
Part of my role involves mapping out all of our clients’ forestry on our new digital forest management system, Forest HQ. The system is cloud-based and allows for all paperwork to be uploaded so foresters can have access to the important documentation at all times. I am in contact daily with the foresters. This allows me to get a good knowledge of the operations happening on each site. I then transfer this information to the system which sends out a notification by email or SMS to the forester assigned to that area.
The outcome of this tool is that revenue will be increased for the company as no forest will go under the radar. I also interact on a regular basis with institutional investors. The measurement element of Forest HQ allows investors to make more informed decisions as to whether they should buy a particular parcel of land or not. I draw up forest management plans at times also.
Describe a typical day
My typical day consists of taking hard copy files and uploading them to Forest HQ and mapping out the property. Any problems within the system I report back to the developers who come up with a solution. Some days are dedicated to meetings, occasionally I could be participating in a training course. It varies the whole time, keeping it interesting.
Depending on the project at the time, which varies quite a lot, I interact with the other foresters to use the system to its full potential. For example, with a potential forest sale, the foresters first carry out their inventory and upload it to Forest HQ. Then I compile the data and make it presentable to the person that will be looking over the figures.
What are the main challenges?
The main challenge at present is trying to get Forest HQ to the best user-friendly system it can be for all foresters within Forestry Services Limited. This challenge is a positive for me. I thrive on identifying the problems and then working with the developers to see them fixed. Not too many people enjoy a day where some challenge or another does not crop up. The more challenges there are, the more we, as individuals, are learning.
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
Ability to analyse data and problems, attention to detail, multi-tasking, patience, reliability, self-motivated and a good team worker, alongside forestry knowledge.
How did you go about getting your current job?
I was put in contact with the company by a lecturer from WIT and went for two interviews.
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
To cut down on my work in a shop and public house to pursue my education in order to provide a better future for myself and my son. I had to get the balance right so I could manage to pay all my mortgage and bills throughout that duration.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
My father had a small workshop where my uncle worked as a cabinet maker. I loved the smell of the sawn timber that would hit you as you went through the door. So even though my father and my uncle did not realise it at the time, there were many factors from that workshop which gave me an interest in timber.
However, I knew I had to do some serious research into determining the right career move. I sat down and researched all the courses and deliberated at length and found myself being drawn back to Forestry. My love of nature and the outdoors contributed immensely to the decision also.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Education and training
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
English, Irish, maths, biology, economics, business and German. They have not influenced my career path in any way. Back then I was told to do either nursing or computer programming by the career guidance counsellor as demand was at a high for these careers at the time. Even though we took aptitude and personality tests they were not really considered.
What is your education to date?
Bachelor of Science in Forestry, Waterford Institute of Technology
QQI Level 6 Certificate in Train the Trainer
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
The two courses mentioned above have been most important.
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
I have continued training through work. Short technical courses such as Growfortree growth modelling, a forest roads course, with much more in the pipeline.
I envisage putting myself through the Level 8 Geographical Information Systems degree in University College Cork this year depending on circumstances. This can be done part-time over one year making it tie in seamlessly with my job. I feel it will most definitely benefit my daily profession.
Next year I will probably tackle a project management course. I feel the more we learn the more of an asset we are to the company we work for and should always be aiming for continuous professional development for our work and for ourselves.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Before I secured my present employment, I was put in contact by the same lecturer with Coillte and Asset Forestry Logistics and was employed in the management of the Bluetree system which was fitted into all timber lorries. My role was to train the drivers across Ireland on how to use this new technology. It was very rewarding to see the drivers getting more confident the more they used the system.
I also learned a lot about myself regarding my level of empathy and patience. These attributes had never been put to the test before in such an environment so it was great to put these to the test and realise my potential. By the same measure, my current employment is equally rewarding.
I am working on Forestry Services Limited’s new forest management system, Forest HQ. Here I am learning even more with Forestry Services Limited about my determined nature, in getting the new system working efficiently all the while communicating with external developers.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
I am a good communicator with a good work ethic. I have always had a strong determination and persistence in any job I had. Honesty and loyalty are always at the forefront. Last but not least, I love to help people. It is extremely important for co-workers to help each other understand particular areas.
Be honest and let people know that you are struggling in some areas. Everyone is working towards the same goal of getting the job done well. If you do not open up you will always be in the dark and keeping yourself behind the masses.
What is your dream job?
Your job is what you make it. I do not tend to look at faraway fields and daydream about dream jobs when I have such an amazing opportunity right before me. I intend to keep growing and learning within my workplace and make the most of the opportunity I have now. Look for the positives in the small things and be grateful to have a job at all would be my opinion.
Advice for others
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Dependable, open-minded and enthusiastic.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Go for it. There is nothing to lose. If you enjoy the outdoors, forestry will really suit you. On the other hand, if you would rather be in the office, there are many jobs within the sector like mine so it is a win-win situation. The forestry degree course is very broad so don’t think of it as stand-alone forestry. The course could lead you in so many directions you won’t believe how many doors will open up for you.
When selecting work placement, be clever about where you do it. Research the company. Why not ask them if you can continue to work with them through the summer increasing your chances of being hired. The forestry sector is very strong at present and is set to get even stronger so for me a course in Forestry is seriously worth thinking about.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Anything. Work experience, no matter what shape or form of business it is, adds to your life experience. Before I went back to college as a mature student I worked in a pub and nursing home and volunteered with a charity. All of this has shaped my character, skills and work ethic. Be prepared to do anything, be eager, learn from the network around you and all the hard work will pay off.
These WIT Forestry graduate testimonials were compiled by the Forestry Careers Promotion Group to mark the 20-year anniversary of Forestry courses at WIT in 2018.