By Michael “House” Tain
Many careers and professions in North America have some form of training and certification system — whether it be the apprentice to journeyman route of a union electrician, the student to resident to doctor path in medicine, or even the proficiency and conduct matrix used for promotion and movement between grades/ranks/rates within the military. Yet, among gatherings of the tree tribe, training and certification can often be a contentious subject for discussion.
Training and certification systems, regardless of occupation or profession, are intended to provide the participant with the basic skills to complete a task safely and efficiently; and also evaluate whether or not the participant does indeed possess those skills, or has still retained them after an arbitrary amount of time in the profession. It is, in essence, an attempt to establish, at the minimum, a baseline which shows that if an individual is certified, they are at least capable of these basic skills and have this basic knowledge.
A commonly heard argument against training and/or certification in the tree trade is the citation of years of experience, and the follow-up, what more could the individual learn. The reality is that experience — although it has some value — can be not only a hard taskmaster, but also an ineffective one. After all, if a climber has 10 years of experience, but every year has consisted of freefall spur takedowns of conifers with no rigging required, how prepared is that person for broad canopy oak deadwood pruning, or even a conifer takedown with multiple hazards and targets requiring rigging? Although training or certification do not guarantee competency, they do go a great deal further toward that guarantee than Johnny’s statement that he’s been doing this for years with his daddy, and we just need to get the hell out of the way so he can get to work.
There are a wide variety of training and certification options available in modern arboriculture. Although this article should not be considered a comprehensive resource, it will discuss some of the options and resources available — along with what users might expect to gain and learn.
Although some states and municipalities do offer and/or require certifications related to tree care in their bailiwicks, two primary national tree care organizations offer certification in a number of arbor-related specialties, the International Association of Arboriculture (ISA) and the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).
International Society of Arboriculture: The ISA (www.isa-arbor.com) offers certification programs for arborists, tree climber and aerial lift specialists, municipal and utility specialists, and board certified master arborists. Any and all of these certifications have value in numerous ways — not only do some contracts require ISA certification, but an applicant who is an ISA Certified arborist, climber, or aerial lift specialist gives a prospective employer an idea of at least baseline capabilities. The willingness to learn, study and achieve a certification should also demonstrate to a manager or employer that the employee is serious and passionate about the profession of tree care.
Tree Care Industry Association: TCIA (www.tcia.org) also offers certifications and training including ground and chipper operations specialist, aerial rescue, electrical hazards awareness program (EHAP), and the certified tree care safety professional (CTSP) program. All of these certifications and training also add value to an individual and the company by which they are employed in a variety of ways. For example, a CTSP on staff will have the tools and knowledge to create a culture of safety that can help reduce accidents and injuries while maintaining efficiency. Certification and/or training in subjects such as aerial rescue or EHAP are not only required by some contracts, but also help assure company leadership that their staff members are well prepared to deal with emergencies or electrical hazards that may arise during the course of business.
State/provincial organizations: There are some states within the United States that have their own statewide arboricultural organizations that also offer certifications and training. The provincial system in Canada is often more related to the requirements of the particular provincial government, but certification holders must be aware that their particular provincial certification may not be accepted in another province. Although an additional state or provincial certification may seem to be overkill to some climbers, the reality is that trees and the work performed do vary with region and geography; and additional training and certification can only benefit the individuals and the trees they care for.
As mentioned previously, there are several national and state/provincial organizations that provide training, along with any number of college/university programs, but there are also several private companies that provide tree care industry training both in public and private formats, typically with a great deal of hands-on, field-based experience. Although the most common complaint about such training is typically related to the cost, a thoughtful manager or company owner will quickly realize that this type of training is relatively economical in comparison to the cost of a new chain saw, chipper, homeowner’s roof/gutters, or, heaven forbid, an emergency room visit. All of the organizations listed limit class size for their training sessions to maintain an appropriate student-to-instructor ratio; and their training involves students actually climbing-cutting-rigging, as opposed to seminars the organizations may present, which primarily consist of demonstration. There are certainly other organizations in North America that offer quality arboriculture training, but those listed below give the reader a sampling of what is available, and also a starting point to compare training offerings, instructors, and costs prior to investment. In addition, all the companies listed are available and capable of working with a company to develop an in-house training and safety program.
ACRT, Inc.: ACRT is based out of Ohio, but also offers training at customers’ locations. Its standard courses include line clearance, electrical hazard, and both basic and advanced arborist classes. ACRT can also provide custom training in a variety of subjects including chain saw safety, pruning, and cabling/bracing. ACRT can also offer certification in several electrical subjects related to tree care for OSHA compliance. Additional information on ACRT’s training offerings, philosophy and capabilities can be found at www.acrtinc.com.
Arboriculture Canada Training and Education (ACTE): ACTE, based in Alberta, offers both public and private courses throughout North America. It offers a wide variety of public tree care industry courses including rigging, felling, climbing, tree insect/disease management, rescue, and tree risk assessment, but also can provide private custom courses designed for a company’s particular needs or requirements. In addition, ACTE can carry out competency testing of a company or organization’s workforce in a variety of arboriculture subjects. Additional information on ACTE’s training offerings, philosophy and capabilities can be found at [ital>www.arborcanada.com<ITAL]. ArborMaster, Inc.: ArborMaster is based out of Connecticut, and offers public and private courses throughout the United States. It offers a variety of public tree care industry courses including climbing, felling and rigging, but can also provide private custom courses designed for a company’s needs or requirements. Additional information on ArborMaster’s training offerings, philosophy and capabilities can be found at www.arbormaster.com.
North American Training Solutions (NATS): NATS, based in Georgia, offers both public and private courses throughout North America. It offers a wide variety of public tree care industry courses including rigging, felling, climbing, splicing, rescue and tree risk assessment; but also can provide private custom courses designed for a company’s particular needs or requirements. In addition, NATS can carry out competency testing of a company or organization’s workforce in a variety of arboriculture subjects. Additional information on their training offerings, philosophy and capabilities can be found at www.northamericantrainingsolutions.com.
The subject of training and certification is one that will, in all likelihood, continue to be debated within the tree care industry. But those who are skeptical of its value should keep in mind the high costs and risks at stake. The tree care industry is one that requires its professionals to work at heights with sharp, powerful tools on large, heavy, sometimes precarious woody organisms often suspended from a relatively fragile piece of line. It takes neither a genius nor a savant to see all the life-threatening risks in this equation. Any action that can reduce the unacceptable deaths and injuries is to be applauded; training and certification are actions that can have that kind of effect if implemented properly and fully.
Michael “House” Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions www.northamericantrainingsolutions.com and Arbor Canada Training and Education www.arborcanada.com. He is currently located in Lancaster, Ky., and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.