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Marina Conway - Western Forestry Co-operative

Marina Conway - Western Forestry Co-operative

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

As manager of Western Forestry Co-operative I have responsibility for overseeing all aspects of the forest management services the Co-operative provides from afforestation and harvesting to forest roading, valuations and reforestation including the legal, HR and financial management of the Co-operative. I report to a Board of Directors on the performance and targets of the Co-operative.

Describe a typical day?

A typical day will often start with a management meeting with staff to go through work programmes and discuss any issues or concerns with foresters and admin staff for the week ahead.  My role as manager involves a lot meetings, consultations, reports, etc.

What are the main challenges?

Forestry is highly regulated and making sure that the Co-operative and its staff are constantly meeting the requirements of the different schemes, regulations and guidelines within which we operate can be quite a challenge.  Forestry is still seen as a last resort for many landowners and trying to get the message across that it is a viable alternative for marginal land can also be a challenge. In the current climate a lot of semi mature forests are being purchased and again trying to encourage the forest owners to hold on to their assets and see the value is another challenge.

What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

I am a good communicator with strong organisational and practical skills. As I have worked in the industry for 21+ years I understand practically what is required of foresters to perform their job and I also understand the complexities of same. Coming from rural Ireland I understand how farming is the lifeblood of the local community, but I also see the advantage that forestry brings to families who plant their marginal land. I see the positive link between farming and forestry when ownership is retained and most of all would like to see a forest culture in this country that is common place in mainland Europe.

What's cool?

Working with trees, being out in the forest, meeting new people all the time, travelling around the country and getting to see new places, often remote areas that you may not have visited otherwise. It is also a great career to travel internationally. When people ask what do you do I’m always proud to say I’m a forester, even though a lot of time people will look at you puzzled and ask what is that exactly.

What's not so cool?

Heavy regulation and administration, for something that is so natural (working with trees) it can be cumbersome, to invoke the famous quote “sometimes we can’t see the wood from the trees”.  The often one sided negative press that the forest sector receives. The lack of awareness with regard to trees and forests in Ireland in general, our lack of a forestry culture, lack of understanding around coniferous forestry which supports the majority of the 12,000 jobs in forestry in Ireland. The negative environmental perception of forestry and how it is too often an easy target for many unsubstantiated criticisms and comments.

How did you go about getting your current job?

When I left college I contacted Western Forestry Co-op (which was near where I lived) to see if there was any work going, I met with the manager and started there shortly after college. I worked here for ten years before migrating to New Zealand and working for Government there on forestry and emissions trading, after returning to Ireland and working in various roles for a while I applied for the Manager’s position in Western Forestry Co-operative where I currently work.

What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?

  • Undertaking my research Masters whilst working full time.
  • Migrating to New Zealand and working with Government in developing the Emissions Trading Scheme Policy for the forest sector.
  • Leaving forestry for a couple of years to work in procurement and training, this enhanced both my people and management skills.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

The managers I have worked for have all influenced me down through the years. Some of the most influential people I have worked with are those who inspired me through their own work ethic and passion, from this they enthuse hard work and commitment by their natural leadership.

I was very lucky to work with two very experienced foresters in the first ten years of my career who guided me and imparted their silivcultural knowledge to me with ease, this was always to stand to me, I always asked plenty of questions as I wanted to learn.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Yes, there is great freedom and flexibility in forestry, but people work hard in this industry. You are constantly learning. If you have good work ethic and work hard no one will be looking over your shoulder. You plan your own day and generally manage your own time. If you are the type of person that needs to be told what to do every day then maybe you should consider if this if the career for you as most jobs in forestry expect you to be able plan and manage your own time. You work both inside and outside, you can be on the computer in the morning and surrounded by nature in the afternoon and often meeting lots of new people in between. You can also travel internationally with forestry.

What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

My favourite subject in school was geography, I loved reading and working with maps, I loved soils, geology, physical geography.  I also did biology which helped.

What is your education to date?

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

The B.Agr.Sc. in Forestry, this has allowed me to operate in the industry, it has allowed me to apply for jobs and register as a forester under the department of Agriculture.  The M.Agr.Sc. in Forestry also opened doors for me and enhanced my research, analytical and written communication skills.

Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

There are always short courses that you need to undertake as part of your job in forestry as you must always keep up to date with changes in the industry. Apart from that I currently have no plans to undertake any other long term training at the moment.

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

Completing my Masters whilst working full time. Working on a research project on sustainable forest management with Spain, France and Portugal. Working in New Zealand in emissions trading policy and forestry. Working on forest carbon projects in Kenya and Fiji. Mostly coming back as Manager of Western Forestry Co-op, seeing the co-operative grow to be the largest and longest established forestry co-op in Ireland, develop new business services in harvesting and valuations, maintaining the co-op’s ethos of empowering local landowners and forest owners to manage their forests to produce a return that is beneficial to them and the rural community, seeing these forests being replanted after harvesting and the second generation of Ireland’s new forest owners get involved in the management of their forests. 

What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?

Good communication skills are vital in forestry. You are dealing with customers, the general public, contractors, department officials etc therefore being able to communicate effectively is important. Good organisation skills are also important. You need to be able to plan your day, week and month. Be flexible and open to change and new learning. You are constantly learning in forestry. Forestry itself is a large subject area and you need to be both refreshing your existing knowledge and as well as new learning and keeping up-to-date of changes in the industry, such as technology which is moving ever fast.

What is your dream job?

Working with trees. I love all aspects of forestry and I think it is good to experience as much of the different aspects of the forest industry as possible. I’d love to see a stronger forest culture in Ireland, I think we have lost some of our connection with forests and whilst they provide numerous benefits from cleaning the air, protecting soils and streams to providing habitat, shelter and food for wildlife and people, it is important that society and wider community can identify with those benefits.   Sometime in the future I’d like to use my skills to manage sustainable forests in developing countries.

What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

  • Organisation Skills
  • Communication skills (both written and oral)
  • Be motivated and ability to work on own initiative.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

Forestry is a great career, it can be extremely varied with opportunities for work in the private, state or self employed sectors.  You need to be flexible and willing to travel. You need to enjoy meeting and dealing with new people and being able to sell the service you provide.  As a professional forester you should be aware that part of your job will be outdoors and part indoors, be aware that paperwork is a component of most jobs and in this regard attention to detail is very important.  

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

As with any job you are going for experience is an added advantage. My advice to graduates or people considering forestry is don’t be too selective at the start, get whatever job you can in forestry and get experience. When I was in college our Professor told us at the time that you are essentially nothing without experience and that we should be willing to work in whatever we can in order to gain experience, this was valuable advice as once you have experience you will have a lot more options and doors open to you.

Forestry Careers Ireland