The power of real work experience in the redwoods
As a rule, and as a casual Eckhart Tolle fan, I try to live and think in the present moment as much as possible. However, working for an organization such as Save the Redwoods League, which focuses heavily on the preservation of redwoods and ensuring a long-lasting future for those giant treasures, makes me wonder: what does that future look like, and who’s going to be there? What else can we do now, in the present, to usher in a future full of people who know about, care about, and want to protect this gorgeous keystone species? Good question.
I want to highlight one answer in particular: apprenticeships. The efficacy of the apprenticeship model of learning by doing, or learning while working, is immemorial. Benefits include increased employability, shared training costs, increased project productivity, and the uncovering of new ideas/solutions through engagement. As someone who has been an apprentice, I can say from experience that when you learn a subject in school, and then are able to apply it directly to work, while learning the latest and greatest techniques in the field, the more solidified and meaningful that knowledge becomes.
Redwoods Rising Apprenticeship
The Redwood Rising Apprenticeship, born out of the Redwoods Rising partnership agreement in 2018 between California State Parks, the National Park Service, and Save the Redwoods League, has just completed its fourth iteration. This year the apprenticeship was scaled back to include 4 hydrology apprentices based on the needs of the Redwoods Rising project, but in previous years the program has boasted numbers as high as 18 apprentices. In addition to recruiting from Humboldt State University, we invited College of the Redwoods to participate with outreach to their students who showed interest in pursuing hydrology as a career or had taken hydrology classes in school and wanted field experience. Along with help from Erin Kelly and Lucy Kerhoulas of Humboldt State University, we worked together to reach a wide range of diverse applicants: students of all ages, identities, backgrounds,cultures, and experience levels.
Since its inception in 2018, the purpose of the Redwoods Rising Apprenticeship has been twofold: to boost the capacity of park staff to complete project tasks, and to provide career opportunities and on-the-job training to the next generation of conservation leaders and natural resource professionals. And it works. Three previous apprentices were offered jobs working for either the League, the National Park Service or California State Parks doing forestry, road removal, or wildlife, and are still part of the Redwoods Rising project. In addition, a survey sent to past apprentices last year revealed that many of them now work in natural resources as forestry technicians, environmental analysts, botanists, and graduate students. When asked if the Redwoods Rising Apprenticeship helped them realize career goals and/or personal goals, every single person said YES.
A new model
Although the RR Apprenticeship was scaled back this year, an entirely new apprenticeship opportunity came knocking: Interpretation and Outreach. California State Parks Interpretive staff, overwhelmed with record-high visitation to Redwood National and State Parks, were actively seeking ways to boost their capacity. Meanwhile, Leslie Parra, the League’s outreach program manager, and Jessica Carter, the League’s director of parks and public engagement, were looking for a way to pilot an apprenticeship focused on community outreach and the “Connect” pillar of the League’s mission. And serendipity struck. Jessica, Leslie, and I worked with the Interpretive Program Manager at California State Park’s North Coast Redwoods District to develop an Interpretation & Outreach Apprenticeship for students with an interest or aspiration in interpretation, education, and community outreach.
The Interpretation & Outreach Apprentices helped improve visitor engagement and experiences in redwood parks this summer, and in return received on-the-job training and a unique career development opportunity. As part of our commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, we also proactively promoted the opportunity to student organizations and networks that serve communities often underrepresented in the redwoods – because our Apprentices should reflect our California communities. The pool of applicants we received was incredible. Out of the four selected, three of them were native Spanish speakers and were able to interpret for visitors, which was extremely valuable both in the parks setting and in the “Summer in the Redwoods” outreach events that the League hosted. The events took place in Arcata and Fortuna and were focused on engaging underrepresented communities by offering Spanish guided hikes and interpretative activities to build a welcoming experience with redwoods. It was a huge success!
Toward the future
Managing both apprenticeship programs this year brought me much joy. As a previous apprentice, I could see myself in each one of them, and I have tons of respect for the work they did. Apprenticeships are effective and have proven to be a mutually beneficial solution to stewardship. In fact, when it was all over one of the students said that his apprenticeship experience solidified for him what he wants to do with his life and career and is continuing his relationship with the League and the parks as a volunteer. Apprenticeships are one of the oldest and most effective forms of public-private partnerships in the U.S., and public-private partnerships are the lifeblood of the League.