How Much Experience is Enough?

As arborists – and ignoring for a moment what the outside world thinks of us – is there some experience threshold we reach when we can look in the mirror and say with assurance, “Experience? I’m good, thanks.”

What about the other arborists who work with and for us? How much experience is enough?

As the publisher of a magazine attempting to impart knowledge to an industry, I’m sure you can imagine where my opinions fall on this subject. I believe that gaining knowledge through direct observation and participation should be a never-ending process.

This feeling was driven home for me through consulting with OSHA on a recent climbing incident that resulted in a fatality. The victim had eight years’ experience. The victim had been trained to climb by their boss, who had, in turn, been trained by their boss. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, I thought. That’s how I was trained.

On the other hand, I climbed for a year with my climbing hitch tied upside down. My boss was a very smart, self-taught individual, but he didn’t commit to passing along everything he knew to his employees. And he operated his business in a vacuum, so his perceptions of professionalism were a little skewed in some areas. My first year of “experience” consisted of waking up every day to do what I had done the day before, possessing some fraction of the knowledge my employer had.

Back to the case. Pictorial evidence showed the victim had been climbing on a system that was state-of-the-art probably 25 years ago. Again, nothing necessarily wrong with that, but were there other “tools” in this climber’s toolbox? We’ll never know.

Further along in this pictorial evidence were two clear signs – billboards, really – that would have caused a truly experienced arborist to abruptly change the work plan. This arborist, eight years in, didn’t have the experience to read those signs.

Every possible way you could define success in this profession – being profitable, efficient, safe, fulfilled, happy – is enhanced by gaining knowledge and imparting it to those you work with. A very successful business owner recently remarked that everything that made him successful he’d stolen from others. But it’s not stealing when the knowledge is freely offered. You do have to go out and get it, though. Even if it’s one nugget, commit to learning and passing along knowledge every day.

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