SESL support helps shape a brighter future

SESL Australia
Jesse Fenn, once SESL Soil Scientist now commercial production manager at Circle D Nurseries, Central Texas, USA reflects on his time with the company and the investment into his career development he received. 

been almost a year since I bid a sad farewell to the SESL family to head out on a new adventure – international immigration. And while the mountain ahead was a daunting one, having no solid employment prospects on the table, I was quietly confident that my achievements and experience at SESL would hold me in good stead. SESL had backed me in numerous career development pursuits throughout my decade-plus time with them, which had well prepared me for this next step.

My journey into the world of soil science began after high school, being hired on in the laboratory as an assistant. The role was simple enough, and I was happy to roll up my sleeves and get involved, but it was also apparent that if I wanted to be stretched and challenged to learn new skills and build on my existing experience, there were plenty of opportunities.

In discussions with the management and Directors, a clear pathway was formed to formally recognise my learning – a traineeship with a Certificate II in Laboratory Technology. That pathway developed to then include additional formal qualifications, including the Diploma of Laboratory Operations. These qualifications were studied in-house with support given to complete the majority of the material in work hours, with the support of supervisors and management, and the opportunity to use daily examples from the laboratory as evidence of learning. This is where undertaking these qualifications while working stood apart from a full-time tertiary education pathway – qualification and experience were being gained simultaneously.

Often the feedback from potential employees for unsuccessful candidates is insufficient qualifications or experience, or both. At SESL, I had the opportunity to gain both together, maximising the use of my time, as well as my earning potential. Upon completion of the Diploma, I was promoted to Soil Physics Laboratory Supervisor – a niche I had carved for myself through the learning and training opportunities I was given.

The return was mutual; SESL had developed an engaged, committed employee looking for opportunities to improve service offerings and critically applying the course material to the everyday operations of the laboratory. As a direct result of the course material, numerous processes, laboratory methods and client services were developed or improved. The willingness of SESL to invest was being returned, which lead to additional bold support of my career development.

I had reached a level in experience and knowledge which had limited me to further progression within the company, either into a management or scientist role. So I took the plunge and enrolled in a Bachelor of Agriculture, to be undertaken by distance through the University of New England. Over the next four and a half years SESL supported my studies by releasing me for my residential schools, purchasing textbooks and literature for the company library which I had full access too, and a generous study leave allocation. Every lunchtime I could be found working through online lecture material, with readings, coursework and assignments done before and after work and weekends.

My employment at SESL would count for two-thirds of my required practical experience, with part of the remaining being organised and funded by SESL with one of our agricultural clients. Again, the course material and assignments had a direct benefit for SESL in both the laboratory and the consultant departments, along with increased company exposure through networking opportunities.

Upon graduating, I transitioned over to the consultant department under the title of Soil Scientist and began building my client base and completing a wide variety of projects for a range of industries. The degree gave me the technical knowledge and skills to produce the services and reports our clients required. My experience in the SESL laboratory gave me a unique understanding of the methodologies, sample requirements and applications (and limitations) of interpretation and recommendations from the data. I was well positioned to service our clients and solve their problems.

My career has taken an exciting new direction down the growing path – as the Production Manager for Circle D Nurseries in Central Texas, USA. I have used my knowledge, problem solving skills and commercial nous to reinvigorate the growing program and improve profitability from propagation sales. I now have a greater appreciation for the producers, now working in their realities. I’m excited for what lies ahead, but forever grateful for the part that SESL played in my career development, their willingness to invest and the opportunities they afforded. It’s a core part of how they operate as a company – investing in the next generation – knowing that company growth requires people and risks.

I could not recommend SESL highly enough for passionate, committed, hard-working and motivated people looking to build their career. The opportunities are only limited to what you’re willing to limit them to.

(picture) Jesse Fenn, once SESL Soil Scientist now commercial production manager at Circle D Nurseries, Central Texas, USA.