In celebration of 20 years of Forestry at WIT, we talk to Jamie Hawan, harvesting manager, Coillte
Harvesting manager for Coillte Jamie Hawan worked in the banking sector but went back to college as a mature student to study Forestry at WIT.
Jamie mentions that the experience and knowledge that he gained from his study at WIT set him up nicely with a good baseline knowledge of forest operations and “the practical experience and numerous field trips while I was in Waterford IT were invaluable,” he says.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
I am managing all Coillte harvest operations in Co. Clare. I am responsible for both standing and roadside timber sales. Tasks include planning and phasing of sites for the year’s harvest programme, packaging of work for tendering process; pre-sale inspections of harvest units and allocation of sale types; monitoring production, haulage and sale progress.
I work with forest technicians to manage timber stocks, sales commodity progress and material availability for auctions. I am responsible for health and safety, environment, stakeholder interaction and consultation associated with harvest operations.
Describe a typical day
A typical day would consist of either a day in the office or a day out on sites. A day in the office would involve monitoring production levels for contractors. Monitoring roadside stocks and ensuring that timber is available to customers in line with phasing. A typical day will involve many phone calls and emails to and from forest technicians on the ground, timber distribution and timber sales department and contractors and operators.
It would involve interaction with other operations, such as engineering also. Time management is massive. Ensuring regular work ,such as production trackers and forecasters, roadside stock inventory and progress of sales are up to date and accurate, is hard when dealing with so many unpredictable factors. A typical day in the field could be assessing future forest harvest SPs (sales proposals), carrying out checks on active sites, meeting with contractors or sawmill representatives, or checking roadside stocks and road quality for haulage.
I have a forest technician working with me. They are the vital link to what is happening on the ground. Regular days on site with the forest technician are important. Depending on the time of year and the size of your programme of work the split of office time to being out on sites could vary. My split between office and site would range from 90/10 to 70/30.
What are the main challenges?
The main challenges of the role were initially learning the Coillte systems, and once familiar with these, varied other challenges arise. Obviously, managing harvesting contractors can be challenging particularly on standing sales where the contractors may not be your regular contractors.
I find it challenging to monitor and ensure that our OPI (Operational performance indicators) are kept in a healthy position and this can put huge pressure on. It is not a regular 9 to 5 job and flexibility to deal with the unpredictable is expected. It may be hard to plan your week because you just don’t know what might come up.
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
I would have come from a strong administration background having worked in the banking sector. This I feel has enabled me to get familiar with Coillte systems fast and helps me to monitor, update and create spreadsheets etc. Also, the experience and knowledge gained from college in Waterford Institute of Technology set me up nicely with a good baseline knowledge of forest operations and timber measurement.
Seeing new harvesting machinery working on a site and watching good quality commercial timber coming to the roadside in nice, safe and tidy stacks knowing that the hauliers are on their way is satisfying.
What's not so cool?
Having to stop operations because the weather has deteriorated, knowing that mills need timber.
How did you go about getting your current job?
I applied to go back to college as a mature student on the forestry programme at Waterford Institute of Technology. I worked hard in college and applied for the Coillte Graduate programme then took every opportunity that came my way.
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
Leaving the bank job and returning to college was the biggest. Then applying for the Coillte Graduate programme, knowing that I would possibly be located away from home.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
My father, who was a forester for years and my family gave me so much support when I returned to college, particularly my girlfriend who felt all the strains of me returning to education. The staff in the Scarriff office helped me to no end when I started in Coillte. The lecturers on the forestry programme in Waterford Institute of Technology.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
The job does allow for a good lifestyle. The pay and reward are good. The holidays and flexibility within the job are also good. However, I will not be happy until I am located nearer to home, which will come in time. If you are not tied to home life and are happy to move and relocate then the job does allow for a great lifestyle.
Education and training
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
Subjects such as business, English and maths are very important for forestry. Science subjects and IT would also give you a good advantage particularly when studying Forestry in college.
What is your education to date?
I have completed my Leaving Certificate and I have the Bachelor of Science in Forestry from Waterford Institute of Technology.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
The practical experience and numerous field trips while I was in Waterford IT were invaluable. The experience with forest economics, Geographical Information Systems and forest operations were important topics in college that have since been very important in my current role.
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
Within Coillte, I attend regular internal courses covering many aspects of forestry from firefighting to environmental risk assessment. As part of the Coillte Graduate programme, I am enrolled on the Irish Management Institute Graduate programme. This course consists of 9 x 2-day sessions and covers some very important skills such as presentation and communication, project management and team leadership.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Being asked to cover the harvest manager position in Co. Clare. I really felt that I had proven myself.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
- Being able to get along with people
- Having a certain amount of flexibility, though sometimes you just need pure stubbornness
- A good sense of humour
What is your dream job?
Haven't decided yet.
Advice for others
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
It’s important that you can work with a team and be a strong communicator. The most important aspect is confidence. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities and especially have confidence in your knowledge.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Be prepared to work hard and don’t single track yourself into one aspect of forestry. There are many areas to the industry with many opportunities. I would consider what you want to get out of a college course and look closely at what experience a college will give you. Be prepared to move or relocate and if you are successful in getting a job grasp every opportunity. Whether that is being involved in a project or if it’s being involved in a feedback group, get involved.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Work experience doing anything in the forestry sector. Whether it is grass cleaning and spraying or planting or if it’s working in a timber yard of a mill. Anything that relates to the industry is important. Look at big companies such as Coillte who are always willing to offer placement to students.
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.