Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone by Jess Denney

My name is Jess and I am a 19-year-old Trainee Arboricultural Consultant. Despite growing up in the urban environment of Colchester, I became interested in nature from a young age. We live next to a large woodland which I frequently visited with my family and dog. I have always preferred the outdoors to staying inside, so I needed a job which would fulfil this. As a consultant, I enjoy a pleasant mix of working outside in nature but also working with a friendly team in a warm office!

I attended secondary school on a small local housing estate. As I was approaching my final years, the pressure to pick a career was strong. I was constantly being told to attend a respected six-form college and make it to university. However, these pressures and the career options given to me just did not tick all the boxes for me. Being active is very important to me and so is doing what I love; I knew I had to find a job which met both these requirements. After considering many different paths, and with the help of my parents, I discovered the role of tree consultants. As soon as I heard about it I knew it was the perfect choice for me. I could be outside, stay active, and work with something I was passionate about. 

I did not hesitate in applying for a college course at Easton and Otley College. The two-year course provided me with an Extended Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture. There was only one other female student in my class - it was all very male dominated. However, this did not intimidate me, it certainly pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but it made me work even harder to prove I could do it. The course covered most aspects of forestry and arboriculture, including tree surgery skills. This was a challenge for me, but it made me stronger both physically and mentally, motivating me to reach my dream job. My friend and I were often put down by people for being female in such a male dominated industry, but we definitely proved to them and ourselves that we were just as strong and able as the others. I worked hard and it paid off as I achieved the qualification at a distinction grade.

 

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During college we had to find a work experience placement. This was my next challenge, as the rest of the class had found placements at tree surgery companies, although I decided this wasn't for me. I managed to gain a placement with a local authority and was able to see how they worked in relation to trees and the planning process. Plus I spent time with a local consultancy firm which helped me see two different sides to the industry. This opened my mind and convinced me that this was the industry I wanted to be a part of. Both encouraged me to pursue my goal and were a great help in the process. This also made me realise the importance of encouraging younger females into the industry.

When I left college, I successfully gained the role of arboricultural consultant at Hayden’s Arboricultural Consultants in Suffolk. I was ecstatic to finally be able to achieve what I had worked so hard for. Working for Hayden’s has been such a fantastic opportunity and they have supported me in all aspects to improve my knowledge, confidence and abilities. We work together as a team to provide our clients with accurate and honest tree surveys and reports. I regularly undertake tree surveys and assist clients in the planning process. I love working in the countryside. It certainly is a unique job where I learn something new every day. I have an open mind and I appreciate working in an industry where having an open mind is key as new understandings and theories always come to light. 

 

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Inspiration is needed to get us where we want to be. Without this inspiration I may never have found this job sector and would not be where I am today. The first thing that I can remember sparking a proper interest in trees was when I was about 8 years old. I was on a family outing to a local arboretum and we came across the Wollemi pine species. I remember finding it amazing how a species which dated back to the Jurassic period and was almost extinct could make a fight for survival and a dramatic comeback. This interest made me do a school project on this particular tree, and it certainly changed the way I looked at trees and nature as a whole. Learning more about trees and their remarkable design truly inspired me to want to work with them.

Seeing the fantastic achievements of other women in arboriculture and seeing them undertake work which defies typical expectations also made me want to get involved. It truly is commendable how far women have come in this industry and the great things they have done to help new research and progress; I knew that I wanted to get involved and be like them. As mentioned earlier, I wanted a career that was unusual and different to the rest of my friendship group, and this definitely motivated me! Furthermore, I have grown up in a generation where global warming and deforestation is more prevalent today than ever before. Growing up, I have seen the devastating effect of woodlands and forests being destroyed, and I want to help conserve trees for future generations. I believe that my job has helped me achieve this, even if my contribution is small.

There have, of course, been many challenges on the way. The main being my age and inexperience compared to the rest of my colleagues. I feared this would hold me back, but I feel I have used it to my advantage where I can; I have been able to learn a lot in a short amount of time and can help bring new ideas inspired by my generation.

 

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Of course it has been difficult being female in a male dominated industry. There have been many times where I have attended a site and male clients are often surprised to see a young female as a consultant. However, I feel like this has brought a lot of support and encouragement from people and as an individual it has forced me to work hard and prove that women can easily work in this industry too. For example, my most recent achievement was attending the Professional Tree Inspection course and passing first time. This in itself was not an easy task, I had a lot of support from work but still had self-doubt. Passing the course truly helped my self-confidence - it proved that I was just as capable as anyone else, despite the age and gender difference.

Even though every day I prove to myself and others that females can work in the arb industry, I feel there is still such a long way to go. This is only the beginning of changing an industry which has been male dominated for such a long time. I strongly encourage females, both young and not so young to consider a career in this industry. If they already have that career, I encourage that they continue in the industry and develop their skills and confidence further. It is such a rewarding industry, people may challenge you, but be confident to challenge them back and defy expectations, and prove we are just as capable. This truly is so rewarding. I think that now is the time for females to get more involved in arb, to change the stereotypes surrounding women. It's the perfect job to think outside of the box, make changes to society and their views (no matter how small) and will reward you for stepping outside your comfort zone. At school I had no support for finding this industry and information was very limited, therefore it is my goal to make young people aware of the industry and how they can get involved.

 

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I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but I am positive that I will keep learning new things every day and improving my skills and knowledge. I plan to study further, and learn more about such an amazing subject, by aiming towards a degree. Ultimately, I want to encourage more young people into the industry, there is always a need for more people, no matter who they are or their background, or their gender. There’s still a lot to be done, both with me personally and changing attitudes in the industry. This is only the beginning for me; but I am so happy with how far I have come and I am excited for how much further there is to go. 

 

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