Zimbili 3

November newsletter – Role models for the future of forestry

In the second of this series of interviews with new faces in the industry, we meet a student who is already making a name for herself in the Forestry Sector. Representing female students from all walks of life and at every institution, she was their voice at the Women in Forestry webinar held during Women’s Month.

Zimbili Sibiya

“Don’t strive to only get a degree, strive to be more than just a graduate by the time you complete your qualifications.” – Zimbili Sibiya, Stellenbosch University

Zimbili Sibiya will be a future leader, hopefully of our sector. This was the consensus of the women, and men, who heard her speak at the first ‘Women in Forestry’ Webinar held in celebration of Women’s Month.

Zimbili’s 20-minute talk covered not just predetermined points but responded sympathetically and with conviction to the talk before hers, where the speaker identified the challenges she had faced as a forestry student 20 years prior. Zimibili’s ability to adapt her talk but keep true to its objectives, ensuring the key messages remained strong and clear, got her noticed by many in the meeting.

“It is exciting to know we have students, especially female students, of Zimbili’s calibre. It makes me very excited for our sector to see future generations express the passion, drive and enthusiasm Zimbili showcased at the Women in Forestry webinar.” – Khosi Mavimbela, Executive Director Forestry Sector Charter Council

Zimbili chose forestry as a career path to pursue because it intrigued her, “It was different, I like that I didn’t know many people who did it and that it was an uncommon career path” she explains, “my degree gave me a great appreciation of the diverse opportunities and disciplines found within the industry. I saw how I didn’t necessarily have to become a forester with a forestry degree, that the skills taught within the course could be applied to all aspects of agricultural sectors”. Her inquisitive nature and willingness to explore the unknown makes her an exciting prospect for any industry. “In the future, I see myself contributing to new developments and advancements which will benefit forestry operations rather than following my pre-degree expectation of becoming a forester per se”, Zimbili enthuses, “I want to see small- and medium-scale growers benefiting more from the available technology. I think there is a huge amount of scope to dramatically improve their productivity if we improve the accessibility of these groups to the technology.”

A PhD student, currently studying at Stellenbosch University, looking into the ‘use of an appropriate technology-based approach to improve operational efficiency for small and medium-scale growers’, Zimbili is gaining the knowledge and understanding of both the available technologies and the grower group dynamics to find solutions to these questions. “My studies have awoken the realisation that a career in forestry would enable me to align my working objectives with personal values that I am truly passionate about. For example, the sustainable nature of forestry aligns closely with my personal values and belief, as does how the industry invests in improving the workplace experience for the forestry workforce. It is this alignment between my values and the industry’s objectives that ensures I will continue in the sector, doing my bit to improve and advance the industry.

Zimbili’s enthusiasm and determination to make a difference is truly remarkable and something she should be applauded for. Her willingness to throw her voice into the Women in Forestry arena took great courage and ensured the views of future generations coming into our industry was heard. So, what message would Zimbili see better promoted to both her peers and those outside the sector?

We need people to realise forestry is about far more than simply cutting down trees and that as a Sector we are constantly striving for sustainability. Yes, there are flaws and areas where we can improve upon, however, the improvements that have already been made should be promoted. We have come a long way from the days where forestry was implemented without a care for the environmental and social impacts of afforestation – we need to start conveying this, so people outside our Sector see the sustainable nature of forestry.

When asked what her advice would be to those investigating a career in forestry and looking to study a forestry-related subject, her advice was simple, “do your research, make sure you know what the institution has to offer and are clear on how the course will align with your career ambitions and personal values. Most importantly, once you have settled on a course, look beyond only getting a degree. Strive to be more than just a graduate by the time you complete your qualification.”

So how do you go about doing this?

In Zimbili’s mind, it is in part down to the student and their willingness to deliver more than just a qualification upon leaving university but also partly the responsibility of the industry, who need to spark up conversations with forestry graduates. “We need to have conversations to ensure students know the competencies and skills the industry is looking for and needing from graduates. How can we make ourselves more employable and attractive to employees? Is there more besides work experience?” She muses, it is a conversation Zimbili is keen to have.

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