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Labor isn’t only a problem on the turf side of the industry; it’s also a hurdle in the tree care segment. That’s where Brigitte Orrick steps in. She was hired in January of 2015 by the Tree Care Industry Association as its workforce development director. She’s tasked with developing sector partnerships in local communities to increase the labor pool for tree care companies.

“When a group of employers identify a shortage of skilled workers, a sector partnership engages those employers with workforce development entities, community and technical colleges and other nonprofits that are interested in developing a skilled workforce within the community,” she says. “It’s a grassroots-type model that engages a bigger group into a conversation where you can begin looking at local opportunities to change the landscape for businesses.”

L&L spoke with Orrick about the process and how it can help grow the tree care industry.

Lawn & Landscape: How does this process work?

Brigitte Orrick: I act kind of like a facilitator. We establish a meeting location and we establish who the partners are. Being the trade association, I know who the employers are going to be. But we have to have some initial conversations with workforce development entities within the city or region, with some of the community and technical colleges.

We’re looking for responsiveness from those other partners before we begin positioning the location for where that training would take place.

L&L: When you say “partners,” do you mean schools or tree care companies?

Orrick: Both. Then the third partner would be the local workforce development board. In some locations, we’re finding other nonprofit organizations are helpful, too. We’re working in the state of Georgia and we’ve also partnered with United Way of Atlanta. We’ve partnered with the Urban Conservation Corps and we’ve partnered with the Georgia Arborist Association.

We look for some strategic partnerships because each one of those different groups or organizations has connections to different pots of money and different resources to leverage within their local region.

The conversation starts with the employers and the educators, workforce development board. Then, if we learn that we need to really invite this group over here, we bring them into the conversation.

I facilitate a strategic plan on how to communicate the skills for arborists to the college to build the training program, and then also work with some of those other entities to build a pipeline of individuals to take the training program. Then, we make the connection back to employment.

L&L: Are you trying to get high school kids or are these going to be college-aged kids?

Orrick: In a similar way that businesses don’t recruit just from one school or one age demographic, we’re building a pipeline that has multiple avenues associated with it. In one particular community, the employers may determine, “OK, we want to have short-term training that we partner with the Conservation Corps on. We also want to deliver an apprenticeship program, and we also want to build an associate degree at a local community and technical college.”

Those are three different avenues that could be built within one community and it just depends on what the employers really want. Those avenues are going to be attractive to different populations of people, so some of them are high school students, some of them are veterans, some of them are career changers and adult learners.

But it really just depends on what the employers are looking for, and then there’s a multifaceted approach. To help us with that, we’ve hired a marketing firm that is helping us to develop materials and resources and information for people from all those different demographics.

L&L: How are these programs funded?

Orrick: The cost gets passed on to either a student, an employer or a workforce development agency.

L&L: How did you select the locations you wanted to target?

Orrick: We looked for communities where there already was a critical number of employers and where there was some energy already moving forward.

L&L: By employers, do you mean tree care companies?

Orrick: Tree care companies and utility line companies. Metropolitan areas are kind of hubs for tree care businesses. If an employer came to me tomorrow and said, “Hey, can you come help us? We’re located in the middle of North Dakota,” I would probably say, “You know, we really need to have eight to 12 employers within your community to make a workforce development initiative work.”

So that very quickly filters down which cities and communities we work in. In terms of a workforce development initiative, we pick cities like Atlanta, Georgia, where there are eight to 12 major employers within a couple counties’ distance of each other. There’s a number of businesses that are in that location, and they’ve already had some preliminary conversations. Maybe some of the individuals have been working with the community and technical college to try to get a new program built and nothing has come out of that.

I come in and facilitate a conversation and reengage everyone back in those conversations that were had previously, or put more fuel behind it.

L&L: What is required of the tree care companies to get this going?

Orrick: It starts out with, “Well, we want to invite you into a strategic planning process,” within a region. They decide they want to develop an apprenticeship program and we start talking about where there are different pots of money within the state government and the federal government, and maybe where we can leverage grant resources locally.

At that point, maybe that local community then needs some matching funds from an employer. Then we would ask, but not up front. We need to get going down the path first of determining, “How are we going to fill the workforce shortage?” before we ask for money, because in some places, we may not need it. In some places, we may be able to find enough local grant funds to build something and then we just need the employers to participate in the development of the training program and hiring people on the back end.

L&L: Would the employer teach the class?

Orrick: They would probably help identify a trainer. The businesses would probably help. They may know of a person that they think would be a really great teacher.

L&L: Is there anything else you want to add?

Orrick: Yes, there’s another piece to this that we have to be aware. In the landscape of different job opportunities that exist today, the tree care industry and the horticulture industry – we are competing against manufacturing, IT, health care, transportation and construction. Those industry sectors have their act together and have access to tons of federal and state financial resources to build their workforce.

We’re competing against them in terms of creating a desirable occupational field. We have to communicate that not only is this a rewarding career path, but there’s financial incentive for you to pursue it. You’re going to have a great job. You’re going to be able to support your family if you pursue this as your career path.

Interviewd by Brian Horn