Many career paths lead to forestry

April 25, 2012

A career in forestry can take many forms and paths, from business and financial management to marketing, transport and logistics, biotechnology and forest engineering.

This means that you could study for a wide variety of qualifications in science, technology, business, engineering or human resources, and still end up in the forestry industry. This is because the business of growing trees and producing timber for the market is a complex and varied activity which includes elements of many career disciplines.

Thus, it is possible to pursue a career in marketing, for instance, and end up in a forestry business selling timber, in which case it would be a good idea to find some specialist short courses offered by one of the higher education institutions to learn more about timber and wood products.

On the other hand, you might study forestry at Stellenbosch or NMMU, and end up in a forestry job where you are required to do financial planning, marketing or road and infrastructure planning, so you may need to acquire new skills.

Below are some of the career paths which are useful and relevant in a forestry business:


Biotechnology is used to increase the productivity of commercial plantations, from the development of more productive, faster growing and better adapted trees to the application of enzyme technology in pulp and paper manufacture.

Forest simulation software

Computer science plays an important role in the management of forestry estates, helping foresters to simulate forest growth to determine expected wood harvests etc.


Geographic Information Systems is a computer-based tool for mapping and analysing geographic phenomenon, and events. This gives land managers access to large amounts of data and information that were impossible to access previously.

Geographical Positioning Systems enable foresters to plot location data (latitude, longitude, and altitude) for use in calculating timber volume, surveying timber plots and mapping roads and features in the forest. This data helps foresters to accurately manage modern plantations.

Remote sensing

Remote sensing is a way to obtain information on forest biomass and stand conditions over large areas. Remote sensing utilises aerial photographs, satellite images, laser altimetry, and radar to check field situations and then calculate additional data by projecting the checked data to unmeasured data eg. tree sizes, drought, diseased timber, burnt areas, etc.

Forest engineering

Harvesting and processing trees (removing bark and branches, and cross-cutting to desired lengths) was traditionally done by hand with hand tools – but now big machines are being used to do the same jobs quicker and safer. As a result, a lot of engineers, mechanics and machine operators are employed in plantations.

Forest management

Managing forests is a complex business, requiring a wide range of financial, business, social and human resources-related skills.

Transport and logistics

The transporting of timber from plantation to mill is a huge part of the forestry business, requiring people with specialist fleet management and operational skills.


The forestry industry places a strong emphasis on environmental considerations as forests must be sustainable and forestry operations must be done in accordance with international environmental standards.

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