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Chainsaw Wisdom
Arborist of the Future
Payback Time:  Mentoring the Next Generation

There are a tiny handful of college and university programs geared toward Urban Arboriculture or Urban Forestry in Canada and whether you’ve participated or not, you’d likely acknowledge the value of those programs and their continuous impacts to move the bar higher for the profession regionally and beyond. This article is for the students of the trees starting class or starting their final year before graduation, with some recycled wisdom that was at one point shared to me -- on how to take your class time and supercharge it.

The more you invest in your network, the more your network invests in you. The greatest resource of information and opportunities is your friends, coworkers and colleagues and the only input needed is a willingness to show up, share and most importantly to listen. The tree biz isn’t always sunshine, oak trees, happy clients, and good coworkers. Thinking of the good times over the last how many years is easy -- thinking of the rough patches is a little harder. Some bad days turned into bad weeks. Some nagging injuries turned into chronic pain and temptations to pack it all in and find something more manageable (like a desk). Building your network is going to be the difference between having support, having options and opportunities or having a career change. The network goes two ways of course, and you will one day hopefully be there for another in need.

How do you build community outside of school? Climbing competitions, workshops, courses, days of service, and conferences are good starts although some can be costly. Reaching out to coworkers or other local climbers to go for a rec climb is low cost and always a good time. Introduce someone new to tree climbing while you’re at it. Urban Forestry students could gain a lot from reaching out to Urban Arborist students, and vice-versa. Talk shop, ask questions, repeat.

You’ve got some more learning to do. The learning never stops (unless you want it to). Anchoring all that institutional information to the workplace is going to take some time and sweat, and you might come to recognize that some of that curriculum doesn’t necessarily fly in your workflow. Conversely, some of your coworkers are going to disagree with or disregard some of what you’ve learned, and it will be up to you and your network to determine what is best practice and to reconcile how you move forward. Reach out and get copies of industry best management practices, and any other reference materials you can as they will be invaluable to guide you when unconsciously incompetent or consciously incompetent workers inevitably try to influence you in one way or another.

Not all learning costs money. Find yourself a workplace where education, training and references are held in high regard. They may not pay as much as the others, but the pay cut is worth it if you want to take your skills and experiences farther. That kind of employer typically has a more diverse client-base which means you gain a wider-view of the workplace, and you may have opportunity to advance within the company. The amount of time you invest in your professional development will reap rewards in terms of job satisfaction and future job progression.

Local factor is high priority information. If you find yourself in a new city, a new province, a new country, etc., there’s some recon to be done that you’re not necessarily going to take away from your college or university program or from your supervisor.  Some essential information that comes to mind is Provincial Workplace Regulations that apply to your work, Municipal tree protection bylaws (size/species of protection, critical root zone, etc.), Municipal GIS for property lines and tree ownership information, designated truck routes, prevailing wind direction, weather patterns, common insects, common pathogens, common tree species, tree species failure profiles, where to buy a rake and a tarp, soup and sandwich spots, cafes with adequate parking, and public washrooms.

Volunteer. Not screening in for an interview for your ideal job? Volunteer. I’m not talking about unpaid internships in the workplace you want to be a part of. Volunteers are needed everywhere, all the time in places that can only operate with the support of volunteers. Think of volunteering as time with other people from the community (not necessarily the tree community) drinking coffee, sharing experiences and learning while serving on projects that will build your future capacity and capabilities.

- Ryan Senechal

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