Career fair features timber opportunities
High school students learned how to grow local careers in the timber industry.
Rayonier and the Florida Forest Service teamed up to present hands-on equipment operation and timber-related activities Sept. 26. At least 170 students participated in 20-minute informational sessions stationed at the Northeast Florida Fairgrounds.
Yulee High School senior Francisco Jaime gained a better understanding of timber production.
“Here we’re learning a lot about where the wood that you see on the side of the road really goes to,” he said. “And like, every single bar code, every little number behind each piece of wood, is its own fingerprint kind of thing.”
Although he’s undecided on careers, he wants to find a job that he enjoys.
“I like to be around wood and get my hands dirty, so this is a big eye-opener for me,” Jaime said.
The sessions also highlighted tree grafting and cross-pollination, geographical information systems that survey land’s sustainability and all aspects of timber production. Resume and interviewing skills were also discussed.
The timber industry offers career opportunities for varying educational levels.
“You just need a high school education, in some you need vocational training, some you need a college education,” said Alejandro Barbero, director of communications for Rayonier. “You need a variety of different jobs and forestry has them. And even more so, you can stay local. A lot of the people of Nassau County grew up here and work here. That was the main reason why we wanted to do this.”
Rayonier owns 120,000 acres of timber in Nassau County, comprising about two-thirds of the county’s tree population.
“Forestry is a very important industry in Florida,” he said. “It employs 125,000 people every year across the state. It contributes $800 million to the local economy every year.”
Mariah Ethridge pushed dirt with a bulldozer. Earlier, she took over the controls of timber loader.
“I was just hoping I didn’t wreck it,” the Hilliard Middle-Senior High School junior said. “It felt good to have control over it and know what you’re doing.”
She plans to become a nurse.
Fernandina Beach High School sophomore Aliyah Johnson operated a drone for the first time. She also practiced picking up logs with the loader before working the switches to raise and lower a drone.
“I didn’t think I was going to be graced with that opportunity,” she said of the loader. “I thought it was kind of scary. I definitely wouldn’t do it for a living, but I could see how it interests some people who are into that kind of stuff.”
Johnson was unaware that drones were used to survey the health of trees, ensure that contractors are in compliance when harvesting timber and take photographs for media and marketing purposes.
“I just thought it just dropped off, like, Amazon packages,” she said.
Johnson plans to study accounting in college so that she can become a proprietor of a bar.
FFS District Manager Jennifer Hart and firefighters had tractors and other heavy equipment for demonstration and for students to try. Education requirements for careers in forestry range from high school diplomas to post-secondary degrees.
“There’s a little bit of something for everybody,” Hart said. “The good news is we train people, so you can come in with literally just a high school diploma and we’ll send you to fire school. We’ll teach you how to operate the trucks and teach you how to operate the tractors. We do all of that in-house and support you through that.”
Northeast Florida Fair Association President Keith Wingate said the fairgrounds were provided free of charge. The site is undergoing some changes, including a new parking area added to the rear of the property. The mounds of dirt prepared for that project gave teens the chance to operate excavation equipment. The forestry-themed career fair supported the board’s mission to promote agricultural activities for the community, according to Wingate.
“We don’t eat trees, but it is agriculture and it’s part of the rich heritage of Nassau County,” he said. “We were very eager to partner with them.”