From my perspective, TCI EXPO ’22, held November 10-12 in Charlotte, North Carolina, was the best TCI EXPO ever! The energy buzzing through the conference center early Thursday morning was more than pent-up Covid-19 demand. It seemed everyone was talking about this new energy and a different feel in the air than in previous years on opening day of TCI EXPO. They also were talking about the changing landscape of the people who make up our industry.
Inspiring is the word that comes to mind in seeing the number of young people gathered at TCI EXPO ’22 to learn about arboriculture, including some middle-school kids I spoke with. Many attendees also mentioned how tremendous it was to see gender diversity rapidly changing and the representation of color progressing in our industry, and how well these were represented at this show. One member commented, “We are witnessing a cultural shift in our industry.”
In speaking with our members, there were no surprises in the responses when asked about their daily business challenges. “People,” without any hesitation, was the response from all business owners I spoke with. For many years, we have focused on how we bring more people into our industry by raising awareness of just how rewarding a career in tree care can be. It’s evident that years of hard work by many individuals who have advocated for this industry are paying off. The word is getting out, and we are attracting a host of new interest in the career of arboriculture.
As an industry, our challenge lies in how we engage the talented humans entering the field. For many years, whoever had the best equipment generally attracted the most talent, but this has changed in the last five to six years. The modern-day employee has an assortment of needs they are looking to fulfill. “Purpose” and “culture” are words heard consistently when candidates are interviewing companies to work for. This is where engagement begins, when the prospective employee is interviewing the company. The most important aspect for the industry is not where they work as much as engaging more people in arboriculture.
One thing is certain, there are not enough arborists in the world. I’m unaware of any quality tree care provider that cannot use additional arborists on staff. However, the bigger question and challenge might be, what are we doing as an industry to connect with the progressive direction in which our industry professionals are moving? Connecting and engaging with today’s talented people entering the arboriculture workplace is not the same as it was five years or even 18 months ago. It’s a rapidly changing environment that we, as an industry, need to be united on as to how we address and continue to grow tomorrow’s arborists.
Jim Houston is a vice president and general manager with The Davey Tree Expert Company, a 50-year TCIA member company based in Kent, Ohio, and is a member of the TCIA Board of Directors.