The fields of drones (Uncrewed Aerial Systems, UAS), automated systems, and robotics technologies (DART) have rapidly advanced over the past decade yielding new tools for environmental management and a broad array of other applications. These technological innovations are the result of both public and private research & development investment, and represent emerging markets for future workforce engagement. Over this same time period we have experienced increasingly frequent occurrences of climate driven catastrophes such as wildfire, drought and floods. As a result, there is real urgency to conceive of novel solutions to these environmental challenges. The hope is that drones and related technologies of remote sensing and spatial analysis can be part of those solutions, while providing value through generating future workforce opportunities.
Data collected by drones can be applied to a variety of environmental management fields including agriculture, environmental conservation, timber management, watershed management, climate change monitoring, disturbance mitigation, wildland management, fire management, and urban-wildland interface management among many others. Imagery data captured by drones for the purposes of land management and ecosystem monitoring can be used to evaluate ecosystem health under stress (Daly 2019), track and monitor wildlife (Prosekov et al 2020), pest outbreaks and disease spread (Filho et al 2020), ecosystem regeneration after disturbance, shifts in ecosystem after disturbance (Jiménez et al 2019), and monitor fires (Aydin et al 2019, Afghah et al 2019) among many other applications.
As drones become indispensable tools for land management, with the capabilities of drones to collect high frequency, high resolution data on a variety of spatial and temporal scales. We recognize that a critical priority for California is to have a workforce ready and able to support the innovation, manufacturing, and application of drones across a wide variety of industries.
With an eye towards informing workforce developers, educators and policy-makers focused on meeting the urgent need for a future focused forest management workforce, this paper provides:
- an overview of drone-related investment trends and technology education opportunities in California;
- an analysis of drone and forestry-related wage and hiring trends to paint a picture of recent market demand for drone and drone-related skills;
- Calls out the imperative to design and build a modern workforce that takes advantage of the inherent strength of our States rich cultural diversity; and
- contemplates a characterization of drone and forestry related career pathways.
Recognizing the inherent limitations of projecting emerging technology skill demands based on backward looking datasets, this paper also highlights innovative companies pushing the envelope towards next generation drone-based forest land management applications. Finally, we characterize the current state of diversity, equity and inclusion in the STEM workforce, and present the case for explicit action to ensure the emerging drone and forestry related hiring makes room for a workforce reflective of the rich, cultural diversity of the State of California.