First Forestry Career Day in Northeast Florida a Success | Rayonier Stories

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First Forestry Career Day in Northeast Florida a Success

Students operated heavy equipment, flew drones and met with foresters as they learned about the many high-demand careers in the forestry industry.

CALLAHAN, Florida—Most of the work in the forestry industry is done out of public view, deep in the forest, so it’s no wonder many school children don’t know a lot about forestry.

A group of more than two dozen forestry-related businesses here in Nassau County came together to change that, hosting Northeast Florida’s first-ever Forestry Career Day at the Northeast Florida Fairgrounds in September 2019.

Just under 200 high school juniors and seniors were immersed in forestry career experiences throughout the day, trying their hands at operating heavy equipment, researching genetics and even flying drones.

Rayonier drone pilot Sara Bellchamber shows a high school student how to fly a drone at Forestry Career Day.

The theme of the day: there’s a forestry career for everyone and every level of education, whether you’re looking for something you can do with on-the-job training only, or with a Ph. D. 

“There are so many facets to working in forestry,” says Jody Davis, Rayonier’s Manager of Human Relations and Talent Acquisition. “There are jobs from operational equipment operators to foresters, who are the science behind the growth and the replanting of trees.”

Students learn about the role of genetic research in forestry at Forestry Career Day.

A Rising Demand for Forestry Heavy Equipment Operators

Employers are experiencing a rising need for employees in the operational side of the industry, which includes work such as operating heavy equipment and driving log trucks. Rayonier Senior Resource Land Manager Ed Carter, who came up with the idea to host the event, says these jobs are ideal for students who don’t want to attend a four-year college program.

“There are vital jobs out there,” he says. “We want to reach all those students and let them know, in the forestry industry, you can make a great living and a career even though you don’t get a four-year degree.”

Several local heavy equipment operator employers, including Tim-Prep, Bobcat of Jacksonville and Conner + Conner Logging, allowed students to sit in the driver’s seat of their equipment, operating a skid steer, a mini excavator and even moving logs with a loader.

Under the watch of an equipment operator, a high school student uses a loader to lift a log during Forestry Career Day.

Students also learned firsthand from foresters about their role in the forest, from grafting and genetics to maintaining water quality and protecting wildlife. Representatives from colleges including the University of Florida, University of Georgia and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College talked to students about their offerings for forestry degree programs.

There were also hands-on lessons about GIS mapping, a field the industry depends on to ensure data is accurate on each stand of trees.

Jim Tootle, a Senior Forester for the Florida Forest Service, says learning about forestry at this stage in their lives can help students get a good start in the industry.

“When I enrolled in the forestry program, I had no clue what I was getting into. I just knew I wanted to work outdoors,” he recalls, “so I didn’t really know how to focus my studies in a particular direction that I wanted to go. Something like this may give a student an idea of what direction they want to go in the forestry industry.” 

Students were able to operate several heavy equipment vehicles under the watch of trained operators during Forestry Career Day.

Forestry a Major Industry in Florida

In Florida, forestry is a critical industry. In fact, forest land accounts for almost half of Florida’s total land area. The forestry industry employs 124,000 people and contributes $25 billion to the state’s economy every year, according to the Florida Forestry Association

Representatives from the production side of forestry, including Rayonier Advanced Materials and Westrock, taught students about the many items in their typical day that come from the forest and how they are made. More than 5,000 everyday forest products play a key role in our daily lives, including lumber, plywood and papers and cardboards, as well as items with a lesser-known wood component, such as LCD screens, rubber tires, bath products, even diapers. You can learn more about why trees are used in so many products by checking out our #ItStartsWithTrees articles.

To learn more about Forestry careers, visit Rayonier’s Forestry Careers Resources page, which explains what different forestry careers are and links to schools, vocational programs and other resources for future foresters, at

A representative from Bobcat of Jacksonville offers a handshake to a student after he successfully operated a vehicle through a series of cones.
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