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Pathways Youth Employability Programme participants from Waterford and South Tipperary Community Youth Service recently took part in two experiential days in forestry and horticulture organised by South East Technological University’s Department of Land Sciences.

Participants spent the first day visiting a number of forest sites around Waterford where they learned about working in the forestry sector. The forestry day was led by Tom Kent, programme director of SETU’s BSc in Forestry programme, and forest industry representatives Drue Dickinson, assistant forester with Lismore Castle Estate and Damien Raggett, forest manager with Veon Forestry Ltd. 

Participants spent a second day with Dr Cara Daly, the programme director of SETU’s BSc in Horticulture, in the horticulture unit in Teagasc's Kildalton College, where they visited the horticulture facilities and heard and watched demonstrations from Teagasc horticulture lecturers Grainne McMahon, Fred Townsend and Eamon Kealy. 
The immersive and hands-on experiential days are designed to give the youth group members a first-hand look at the work, skills and opportunities available in the forestry and horticulture sectors. 

According to Tom Kent, “With these events, we aim to increase awareness of the employment opportunities available in these fields and encourage young people to consider careers in horticulture and forestry.

“Both horticulture and forestry offer diverse and interesting careers working in nature and both sectors are actively seeking new entrants at all levels.”
On both days, the youth group learned about jobs and skills necessary for the diverse range of jobs available in horticulture/gardening and forestry. Participants were enthusiastic and asked lots of questions of lecturers and SETU degree students who explained their thesis project work and experiences as SETU students.

Dr Cara Daly thanked Teagasc colleagues who “gave interesting demonstrations of their top tier equipment, horticulture machinery and facilities. It was great to hear that participants’ minds were opened to new work and study options in horticulture with both SETU and Teagasc”. 

Dr Daly went on to explain that “Experiential days can be beneficial for personal growth, skill-building, and team development. Actively participating in activities and experiences brings new insights and perspectives, it can improve problem-solving and communication skills, and can help develop a deeper understanding of yourself and others. They are a great way to try new things, and in effect, grow your confidence.” 
Tom Kent and Dr Cara Daly were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the students and share their knowledge and expertise. They emphasised the importance of the horticulture and forestry sectors in the Irish economy and the potential for career growth and development.
Declan O Driscoll, Coordinator of the Pathways Youth EmployAbility Programme, said “The young people really had their eyes opened by the experience of being out in the forests and fields, and seeing what forestry and horticulture are all about. They’ve never had these opportunities before to see what’s possible. The seeds have been planted, and now we’ll see what grows”.

Overall, the experiential days were a great success, and the young people left feeling inspired, and a number of participants are now motivated to pursue careers in horticulture and forestry. The event organisers hope to continue to organize similar events in the future to continue to increase awareness and interest in these important fields.