Oscar Wilde once said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” A tuxedo might be a little overdressed for tree work, but Wilde was definitely correct on the second part; education should be an endless pursuit.
While there’s plenty of learning that’s done on the job — finding out through trial and error what works and what doesn’t; what’s efficient and what’s inefficient; what jobs to bid on and when to take a pass, etc. — it’s also important to continually learn from others in a more formal setting. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of trainings, workshops, conferences, presentations and classes geared specifically toward this industry.
We asked a few tree care pros what continuing education they’ve found the most beneficial.
“I go to several conferences a year, and probably five or six workshops a year. Plus, I teach quite a few programs myself,” said Gary Ickes, president of Ickes Tree Service in Silverhill, Alabama. Whether he’s a participant or an instructor, Ickes said he almost always comes away more knowledgeable about his profession.
If he had to pick the educational offering that’s had the biggest impact on how he does his job, Ickes said it was an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Tree Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ) program he attended in Georgia.
“The amount of detail that they built into the class was pretty significant. While I was already pretty familiar with the old tree risk assessment procedures, they had completely changed the process. And yet they were able to teach it in such a way that it was easy to go from the old system to the new system.”
Ickes said it was clear the educational program had been carefully designed, and the instructors had taken the time to really understand what they were teaching and how to best convey the material.
Conversely, one class he attended years ago sticks out as being particularly ineffective: “It was a fertilization class that I had made a special point of going to. But the subject matter was old; the presentation was lacking.” The point, said Ickes, is to try to search out educational offerings where the subject matter is cutting edge and the teacher is knowledgeable and up to date.
Ickes noted that most of the trainings in his part of the country tend to take place in a classroom setting. For some topics this works well, but he’s found that indoor trainings can make it difficult to keep people attentive and entertained. “It takes a special type of educator to be able to do that,” he observed. “Personally, I like a good mix of PowerPoint presentations with a little bit – if it’s possible inside – of demonstrations and videos. I think mixing things up like that helps to keep people’s attention, so they don’t start playing on their phones.”
Ickes conducts many educational programs for his own employees, but he’s always on the lookout for offerings in the area to send them to and almost always sees a benefit.
“On subjects that they’re already familiar with, it does reinforce things. When they come back, I tend to see a little better performance in the areas that they learned about. And if it’s something new, it’s usually possible to see an improvement, either in their safety or their performance, as it related to the class,” Ickes said. “I can’t think of any classes that I’ve sent a crew to that I thought were a waste of time.”
Similarly, he said preparing for classes that he’s conducting tend to refresh the information in his mind and help improve his knowledge of the subject matter. The process of teaching, he emphasized, is educational.
Shaun Malady, owner of Arborbound Tree Care in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, said he’s found the annual Minnesota Shade Tree Short Course (a two-day conference put on by the University of Minnesota) to be a valuable source of information.
“My specialty is tree health care, so I look for conferences that are going to give me training on diagnostics of pests, as well as information on pesticides and pest management,” he explained. “The Minnesota Shade Tree Conference brings in speakers from all around the country, and there’s just a lot of variety and detail included.”
He also likes the broad scope of topics covered. “There are things that don’t necessarily relate directly to my work but that I’m interested in, like green infrastructure and environmental engineering. There’s usually multiple courses on those each year, and they just really interest me,” he stated.
While a stand-alone seminar on a tightly focused topic can be valuable, sometimes it’s nice to seek out conferences that touch on many different subject matters.
One advantage of larger conferences that include vendors is that they provide a chance to check out new gear and equipment between classes. In addition, Malady said, “Having breaks a couple times a day means that there’s a chance to network with other folks.”
Booker Arradondo is owner of Booker’s Tree Service in San Antonio, Texas. He believes so strongly in continuing education that he helped co-found the San Antonio Arborist Association, which is backed by the Texas state chapter of ISA, to help provide local opportunities for learning.
“We offer some certified arborist classes, and this year will be our sixth-annual tree workers seminar that covers tree safety [and] pruning, as well as classes on how to be more professional in your business,” noted Arradondo.
He said that local trainings – when they’re well organized – often feature nationally known experts at a lower cost than attending a national event, not to mention eliminating travel costs. The San Antonio Arborist Association also offers many educational programs in bilingual formats, to ensure that Spanish-speaking tree care workers in the area have access to the information.
“This isn’t something that’s just available here; there are resources available worldwide,” said Arradondo.
Wyatt DeWeese, plant health care manager with Terry Hughes Tree Service in Gretna, Nebraska, said, “Our company is very big into education, and we do a lot of stuff through the Nebraska Arborist Association.” State-based trainings provide a good source of continuing education credits for the company’s 13 certified arborists. “There are lots of pruning and climbing seminars, and soils and nutrients seminars. I would say that 99 percent of the time something like that is offered we send a few people just to keep everyone brushed up on things,” noted DeWeese.
It’s not always necessary to travel long distances to find quality educational offerings, he added. For example, the state association recently held a three-day advanced rigging and climbing class that brought in some world-renowned trainers and proved to be particularly valuable. “We sent two of our top climbers to that, just so they could learn from them,” said DeWeese.
But, he said, there is value in regularly expanding your educational horizons by traveling outside your region, for example, the TCI Expo, hosted by the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).
“That’s been kind of a ritual for the last 10 or 12 years,” said DeWeese.
The owner and several supervisors attend the TCI Expo every year, each bringing along one person from their respective departments. This helps to ensure that a wide range of education is received, and that the information is disseminated throughout the company.
“It keeps us up to date with what’s trending in the industry, and gives us an idea of how to use certain practices to help us better our daily routines,” he explained. “A lot of the value comes from being able to see what’s going on in different parts of the country and how they do things.”
DeWeese knows people in the industry working for companies that don’t send employees to trainings. He thinks that shortchanges the individual employees, and the company as a whole.
“We use them to try to stay on top of things, and to keep on the cutting edge. The more our people know, the better they can communicate with customers, and the better they can do their job,” said DeWeese. “If there’s a piece of equipment being used at one of these trainings that can make our production that much faster and safer, then we’ll know about it so we can invest in it. And that’s what it’s all about: continuing education keeps our skills up to date, and lets us learn about what’s out there that can help us do our jobs safer, better and faster.”