President's Perspective - Winter 2023

By Kevin Eckert on Sunday, December 31, 2023

We need to do a better job educating and influencing arboricultural service decision-makers to require qualified service providers at fair compensation. In my professional opinion, most service users don’t understand the critical components that are required for truly qualified arborists. This appears to be the case for a significant portion of government, utility, large commercial, and residential tree owners/managers.

Problem: Too frequently, unqualified arboricultural service providers are retained, resulting in poor work that damages trees, degrades the integrity of our profession, frustrates truly qualified professionals, and on some occasions, results in incidents causing serious injury or significant property damage.

Further, arboricultural practitioners are neither compensated nor supported at attractive, sustainable levels comparable to other professions due to inadequate recognition and demand. In most cases, more adequately compensated trades and professions do not require the same level of risk, knowledge, or skill as that of truly qualified professional arborists. This frustrates the procurement and retention of high-quality professionals with the level of education, training and experience required to adequately understand and consistently apply correct practices.

The primary purpose of the WCISA, as outlined within its bylaws, is to promote and support progressive arboriculture through continuing education and communication among practitioners, educators, researchers, and the general public. I believe that the chapter and ISA does a great job with education and communication among the attentive professional core. However, evidence in many jurisdictions show that we are not meeting these goals as well as we could with the large number of passive, uneducated stakeholders who procure arboricultural services.

Challenges: Arguably, the principal obstacles in effectively addressing this challenge are considerable. There is sizable business and ownership diversity of the target population of service users that is difficult to access. Service consumers possess significantly variable levels of interest and foundation to understand the components and requirements for quality, standard-conforming arboricultural practices. The time and costs required to educate and market the financial, human, and environmental value of correct arboriculture are substantial with very restricted resources available.

Solutions: WCISA and ISA are recognized as credible, third-party, objective leaders and experts by those who know us, but it appears that our target consumer does not know us well enough. In fact, in my experience, many don’t even know we exist.

Contractual requirements are the primary and most successful incentive to ensure requirement of qualified arborists and work in conformance with recognized industry standards and practices. It has been clearly demonstrated in numerous jurisdictions that, once this requirement is in place, professional credentials and quality work increases. However, one additional component required for success is competent, informed, and motivated managers who ensure objective, uncompromising enforcement of those conditions.

Government regulations at the federal, state and municipal levels are also significant and proven drivers of qualifications. However, consideration of this solution must recognize the importance of a strong foundation in the regulatory and legislative process, and effective access to this system through strong, receptive leaders. Perhaps most important is the recognition that, throughout the process, the various inputs by special interests to otherwise reasonable language and requirements during the promulgation process may result in laws and regulations that are inadequate, ineffective or unenforceable.

Cost savings over the long-term, and even sometimes in the short-term, that are documented to the service provider and service user, can also be a strong incentive. Work in conforming to industry standards and practices has been shown to produce a more economically desirable, long-term result for the tree and owner. Indirectly, cost management through more efficient and improved tool and equipment care and use by a trained and competent workforce also produces demonstrated benefits for all stakeholders.

Supportive Experience: This approach is not unknown and has been unequivocally demonstrated within several jurisdictions where decision-makers required qualifications and the professional industry was required to respond and grew.

Approximately 30 years ago, professional credentialing requirements were required by the electric utility in Hawai?i to ensure that all workers were adequately qualified. This was noted by other leaders responsible for management of large tree populations, who subsequently adopted and required this same approach. Shortly after, Hawai?i professionals noted and reported an observable increase in tree work quality within these areas.

In Hong Kong, after the introduction of ISA credentials and training programs, and education of government agencies who control the bulk of the tree population, demand for credentials accelerated to unprecedented numbers in a short period. A requisite increase in work quality followed. This same result can be seen through programs and subsequent requirement for qualified arborists with recognized training and credentials in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia. 

Recommended Actions: I am working with our Marketing Committee to leverage our established credibility and knowledge base to initiate development of a strategy, approach and materials to connect with and educate key, major service users and influencers. These contacts outside of our industry should be focused to drive requirements for credible, applicable qualifications and specifications that will define and drive appropriate professionalism within our industry through proven incentives. This should be accompanied by commensurate valuation of the services.

Our initial targets should include municipalities, utility companies, regulatory agencies, and large corporate service users. Smaller commercial and private tree owners and managers should be included, but are such a scattered, disparate population that this should be more effectively served through the personal connections of local professionals supported by the Chapter.

Educational resources should be developed and made available to professional practitioners to support their service user education efforts. These resources should unequivocally illustrate the financial, safety, and tree stewardship benefits directly resulting from correct arboricultural practices. These resources could be applied at all levels and touch points during client field contacts to initiate development of understanding of these values and eventual preparation of documented qualification and specification requirements.

Conclusion: As educated, trained, and experienced arborists, we work hard to achieve a high standard, but many of us feel unappreciated and underpaid in some circumstances.

We have a good story to tell tree owners and managers, but need the tools and support to enable us to step up to do a better job communicating. With the correct and effective tools and materials, we should be able to accomplish these goals, which will help all of us.

Please let me know your thoughts, ideas, and recommendations on what you feel we need to accomplish this goal. Even more important, please contact me or our wonderful chapter team if you can and are willing to actively lead or provide time and/or resources toward this end.

Aloha! Kevin