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The need for continuing education

A.G. Pyman

A.G. Pyman is Head of the Forestry Department, Cumbria College of Agriculture and Forestry, United Kingdom.

Continuing education should aim at keeping people professionally alive and growing and productive. It is an antidote to the sense of alienation felt by those who believe they have reached their professional limits. The author defines and discusses continuing education in terms of the needs of foresters, forest technicians, workers and managers.

Most published works have examined the problem of continuing education in forestry at the postgraduate level. This article looks at a different area: its application to forest workers and technicians.

Continuing education itself is difficult to define in forestry since it seems to mean all things to all people. My proposal is that it is the provision of further education and training to allow a man, at whatever level, to develop to his full potential, so that his competence and professionalism may be of maximum value to the industry.

Seip (1974) has noted that continuing education is changing from the meetings and excursions of the middle of this century - with their lectures and demonstrations concerning actual problems within forestry - to more organized courses. This is inevitable, as technology is developing so rapidly, and continuing education is more often thought of as updating personnel to understand new techniques as well as new thinking and concepts. New problems, new circumstances, in addition to improved technology, also have their influence (Stoltenburg, 1974).

Westoby (1971) stated that once the forester has obtained his licence to practice, he is let loose on society for ever. There is no opportunity of challenging his fitness to practice, even though the problems of today may require a body of knowledge and an assembly of skills that did not exist when he was licensed. This is equally true at all levels in forestry. Updating could be thought of as simply training in the new techniques, but the personal development of the candidate must be considered at all times, just as the impact of the new technology on the general public - and individual members of it-must be studied.

In the whole personnel structure there must be a continuing thread of further education. As technology changes, industry has no doubts about the value of industrial training to teach forest workers a new technique of planting or production, or to give instruction in the effective use of a newly developed machine. Training is often readily available for technicians, but education for the personal development that will help a man to reach higher goals is not always so easily obtainable.

Terraces of experience

At first glance continuing education appears to be a diagonal line climbing up throughout a career. Closer examination reveals a terrace of experience at every stage after each course of education or training, as the recipient consolidates and absorbs the points that he has learned into his own employment. Eventually he becomes ready in experience and outlook for the next stage, and if he is fortunate he receives another course of instruction and continues to climb the career ladder, rising from the terrace again. According to Ovington (1974) this type of education, in a formal sense, is a privilege of the few rather than the recognized right or need of all foresters.

There are several ways of implementing this lifetime of progression by education and training, some formal, some informal. The obvious way is by on- and off-site training, particularly at the lower levels. One hopes that this would take place as a matter of course, as it does, for example, in the Forestry Commission and in agriculture and other industries in the United Kingdom. The position in sawmilling and harvesting has been stated recently by Swaisland (1974).

Similarly, fairly regular attendance at local or regional meetings, seminars, and discussions as in earlier years, will help a man's technical ability as well as his personal development to some extent, but it is the organized courses that will give the most satisfactory results.

One great advantage - as Ovington says - is that if these courses are held at forestry schools and colleges the opportunity is provided for young students to meet advanced foresters who are also studying, which gives them better motivation and provides a better sense of direction. This is very evident at my own college, which provides a three-year course for suitable, educationally qualified young men who have been forest workers for one or two years (to learn basic skills), and aspire to be technicians. In addition there is a progression of much shorter courses for new entrants, and ambitious older men if they have the necessary ability and inducement, which eventually lead to technician and managerial level.

This system of short courses has been evolved over the past few years, based on the "terrace of experience" concept. After about eight years of full-time work and part-time study, with regularly spaced short courses, it is possible for men of suitable inclination and intelligence to reach managerial status. The college or other agency must at all times be ready to advise the aspiring student regarding his chances of advancement.


Three phases

With this range of courses in mind, the United Kingdom's Joint Advisory Committee on Agricultural Education, reporting in 1973, made recommendations suggesting a structure of forestry education divided into three phases. The first, involving two blocks of educational release, each of six weeks' duration over a period of two years, would aim to educate a general craftsman. The second phase, providing specialized craft work, would have a specialized craftsman as its target. The third phase would cover education for foremen and junior technicians, the former intended for fourth-year students who have progressed through the three-year short-course series at craft level. The suggestion is made that a separate course should be provided for the potential full technician who wishes to avail himself of the short courses or lacks the academic entry qualifications for the full-time course.

These courses would be in addition to the recently established Technician's Course (Ordinary National Diploma in Forestry), a three-year "sandwich" course, described by Danbury (1974), and are similar in structure to the courses currently being examined by the City and Guilds of London Institute and the two Royal Forestry Societies.

The culmination of these studies, for suitable candidates, is the examination for the National Diploma in Forestry, which is recognized (at least by the private sector) as a managerial qualification, and admits the holder to full professional membership of the Institute of Foresters of Great Britain.

All these courses are educational, although the lower ones contain a training element in the form of initial instruction.

It is not envisaged that skills can be developed in the college situation and, ideally, supporting training must be instituted in the working environment, by either on- or off-site instruction, or by a combination of both. Once the courses are established, the terraces of experience can be made more meaningful by the introduction of training in skilled work and of supervised practice.

Because of the lack of continuing education in some places, on reaching a particular terrace the aspirant stays there; sometimes there is no incentive for him to take the next step.

Forest workers and technicians may find their individual zeniths and stay on their particular planes - this is true of all schemes of advancement - but always there should be motivation and incentive, in the form of further education, to allow men of ability to rise. There should always be, in addition, a counselling service to advise them on their suitability for further courses.

If there is no provision for capable candidates to advance, there will inevitably be a sense of-alienation and frustration. This is increasingly evident today, in particular among workers and technicians. They feel that they have reached the limits of their individual development (which is often not the case) and consequently tend to lose interest and "live" less in their work.

The initiative of potential managers must be nurtured, and opportunities must be provided for those of ability to reach higher positions. Maximizing its manpower resource will help world forestry to reach its full development. Here is a vast area where continuing education can play a major part; a huge reserve of potential managers, managers with a practical background, who will serve forestry well. But it will require more than just the provision of continuing education to capitalize this latent force; often there are distinct artificial barriers prevailing on this logical development.

As George Bernard Shaw once observed, all professions are conspiracies against the laity. In some ways they can be conspiracies against themselves. The developing countries were told to get rid of the term "subprofessional" with its implication that those phases of formal forestry education which precede the university level are somehow less important, even subhuman. They were also told never to forget that the three-tier system that obtains in much of the developed world harks back to a class-structured society (Westoby, 1971). This theme was argued further when it was said that the tern "professional forester" has its roots in bygone times when hunting was the pastime of princes. As the forests owned by the princes gained importance for timber production, foresters were given responsibility for this sector too. In countries where development has taken this course forest management has old traditions, and the social prestige enjoyed by professional foresters is considerable (Osara, 1974).

It was realized early that the requirements of forestry can only be met by specialized personnel, by professional foresters, and that the persons in leading positions should receive university level education. Nevertheless in many countries - Finland, for example - the trained "semiprofessionals" (the forest technicians) are of great importance in forestry (Osara, 1974).

It is in this area that we must clear our minds. Is a manager a professional forester or not? Yes, most certainly he is if he has a university background; if he has come from the technician stream, however, he may be only halfway there, but he has probably climbed from "sub" to "semi."

A scientific education does not necessarily make a good manager, any more than a technical one does. The ideal men for the job are articulate, capable and self-reliant, with the ability to organize, work and live in remote communities.

The technician often has these qualities and, although he may lack a truly scientific background and not be a technologist, it is often the professionalism of the forester that he has to develop, in the same way as the graduate. His base of education may not be as broad as that of the university trained manager, but his work may more than qualify him.

In forestry in the past we have not had the technician specializing to a great extent, thus he may be called a "broad-band" technician. As technology develops there is a tendency for enterprise managers to be educated, so there may be an increasing number of "narrow-band" technicians. Continuing education has importance here, when a man's specialized knowledge can be used as a base on which to build higher managerial status, giving access to advancement.

Difficulties and incentives

There are obvious difficulties. The one most frequently raised is the impracticability of attracting a student back to his studies when domestic and family pressures are upon him. This situation can be eased when the rises from the terraces of experience are of limited duration, measured in weeks or, at the most, months. Another incentive that should not be overlooked is the attraction of providing the longer courses at overseas centres; the student who might fight shy of a three months' course in his home country will readily attend one of twice the duration in another.

In some developing countries there is a moral obligation to upgrade able technicians to higher levels, for some of them never had the opportunity to attend universities, often because they did not exist in their present form when these men, who have usually rendered impeccable service, were ready to commence their education. These technicians should not be overlooked by having younger men brought in over their heads.

Some cynics are firmly against the very concept of continuing education, which they see as an escape from work. I do not share this view, as the continuing education outlined here is by no means an easy task, particularly at the upper limit of its progression to managerial capacity and professionalism.

The view can be more fairly taken that, although the educational load is heavy, the relief from day-to-day working anxieties can open new horizons for the student and actively assist and refresh him by the well-earned change.

In the past it was often thought that the content of one course should not overlap another, and that the compartments between the education levels of personnel should be rigidly defined. There is now evidence that this need no longer be so severe in forestry education. The forester's service may be devoted as much to the expensive machine as it used to be to the wealthy princes or, indeed, to the trees. Thus we should take a closer look at what the interim position of today's student will be in, say, ten years' time - what courses are needed now to make him tomorrow's manager? We are very sure when we look at the forest, we know how it will develop, we are very good at making forecasts of yield. We know our forests! What we are singularly lacking is the ability to forecast the structure of our supplementary courses to ensure that our forest workers and technicians reach their full potential and gain their goals at the peak of their careers.

Here is the great challenge. If more thought and effort can be devoted to this neglected area of continuing education, forestry will be the better for it.


DANBURY, D.J. 1974, Technical forestry education in Great Britain - a new approach. Tenth Commonwealth Forestry Conference, United Kingdom.

OSARA, N.A. 1974, The role of professional foresters in economic development and achieving social goals. International Union of Societies of Foresters, Second Congress, Helsinki

OVINGTON, J.D. 1974, Continuing education in forestry for a world environment of rapid technological, economic and social change. International Union of Societies of Foresters, Second Congress, Helsinki.

SEIP, H.C. 1974, Continuing education needs and trends; forestry, northern Europe. International Union of Societies of Foresters, Second Congress, Helsinki.

STOLTENBURG, C.H. 1974, Forestry continuing education in North America: needs and trends. International Union of Societies of Foresters, Second Congress, Helsinki.

SWAISLAND, A.E.H. 1974, The importance of training improving performance. Tenth Commonwealth Forestry Conference, United Kingdom.

UNITED KINGDOM. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND SCIENCE. 1973, Report of the Joint Advisory Committee on Agricultural Education. London.

WESTOBY, J.C. 1971, Forestry education: to whom and for what? World Consultation on Forestry Education and Training, Stockholm.

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