Staying Employable in the Tree Work Industry
Previously I have talked to company owners about finding and retaining success driven individuals. In those discussions I have voiced a few things that I thought would help attract and retain highly motivated employees. It was by far not an extensive list that includes every aspect of the topic. It was a brief look from my perspective of what employees who are worth attracting and keeping are looking for in an environment to settle in to.
This time around I would like to shift focus and bring the attention of this discussion to the employee who wants to make the most out of their employment and become that A class, top tier climber or grounds person.
There is a few things that I want to highlight that I think are the most important part of becoming the 'boss" on a job and what that term means to me aside from its obvious definition. There are several things that the best employees have in common. They are inquisitive, knowledgeable, and generally upbeat in attitude. The top tier of employees are efficient, safe, and capable of performing tasks on their own. They accept responsibility and consequences for their actions. If you want to be considered the best of the best, you will strive to meet and exceed all of these attributes.
The first three things I've mentioned I would consider core attributes that are basic requirements for being employed in any field of work. The remainder are the things that you need in Arboriculture just to survive and also to bring you to the top of the game. As a result, I don't feel that anyone who doesn't fulfill all of the attributes can make it to irreplaceable status within a company doing tree work.
'Inquisitive' means curious at it's most basic definition and that's exactly what you need to become the best of the best. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it will help skyrocket you to becoming the most respected person on a job or within the company.
Being that I am addressing the Arboriculture industry let's use a grounds person with dreams of grandeur to become an 'A rated' climber as an example. You just answered an ad in the paper or online looking for a groundsman or a climber. You know nothing about tree work and you are a week into the job. A guy has already called off of work and now you're set with taking up all his slack. Now you have to run the rope and communicate with the climber. You had better be curious or you are not going to be asking yourself the right questions before he lets that big piece free, it settles into the rope, and starts its pendulum down to earth. Right now you know nothing of what's going to happen next if you didn't ask him 'what are you about to do next" and 'how do I help make that happen'. Ask as many questions as you can come up with all of the time. Even if you already think you know the answer. Get a definitive response. Often that will bring out even more curiosity in you that you can take home and research yourself. Don't take anything that you see or hear at face value and leave it be. That's simply not good enough to get you to the top.
Remember the 5 W's Who, What, When, Where, and Why to become the most knowledgeable person on site as time progresses. Being knowledgeable comes from experience, exposure, and curiosity. That inquisitive nature is going to help us ascertain and retain from the experience we have obtained. If we attempt to learn something new every day, we will be better equipped to handle a similar situation when it comes in the future. If we have applied the five W's in answering all of our questions, we will have the appropriate response the next time a similar situation arises.
Attitude is absolutely huge in terms of retaining and advancing your position and status of importance within the company or on a crew. Being generally upbeat on some jobs can be downright impossible at times but generally speaking if you are mostly positive to any situation, be it good or bad, you are seriously better off in the long run. No owner wants to send the negative attitude toward the customer. If you cannot smile in adversity, you cannot be considered for a leadership role.
Speed over time comes from efficiency. That ability to complete tasks in a timely manner comes from our knowledge that we obtained from curiosity and implementation of the 5 W's. The best employees can meet production speed requirements but are always years into the industry. They are highly efficient because they have learned from experience how and where to cut out wasted maneuvers. Everything from routing, equipment choice, particular knot selection, truck placement, etc. has inefficiencies that novices can learn to remove over time that will speed up production and can turn a two job day into a one job day.
Volumes can be written on job safety and the culture associated with safety is intense in both strict in adherence and vocalizing their discontent. It's TRUE that adherence to safety is important and the best employees are safety oriented and understand the consequences of the actions they perform. Not being able to recognize the importance of certain actions, scenarios, or change of events can get you or others killed, maimed, or terminated. If you are aware of any safety issues, you need to correct them.
If you want to be at the top of the game and earn more money, respect, and/or fame you need to be able to perform tasks on your own. Your boss, crew leader, and other crew members do not want or should have to always come to your aid over simple single person tasks like bucking logs or limbing a felled tree. While it is true that there are many tasks that require two or more people in this industry, some tasks are for a single employee and you shouldn't have to be 'rescued' every time you attempt those activities.
On the heavier responsibility side of being able to perform on your own is leadership. You should be able to manage people and be able to get them to perform tasks geared toward safely completing a job in an efficient productive manner. If you cannot complete tasks on your own individually, you will not be considered for a leadership role within the organization.
All this talk about the attributes necessary to become the top of your field is great but, getting there can be tough, grueling, and extremely challenging. To achieve all of the knowledge and skills to reach that status both within yourself and in your employment can be a 24 hour, seven days a week study. For most that takes years or decades to obtain. For some it seems effortless. They just know what's up every time. Just know that those guys are a rarity and extremely sought after.
These are just my opinions from years of experience in both the Arboriculture industry and from employment before I found the world of trees. I've found these things to be true, so true that I have seen them work and implemented them in my own personal life and training of others. May they encourage and help you in your journey of rising to the top, whatever that may mean for you.