In May, nearly 40 Arboriculture and Forestry Subject Matter Experts gathered in the lakeside community of Hume, California for Skills Extravaganza, a week-long professional competency assessment program we hosted in partnership with our colleagues from Arboriculture Canada Training & Education (ACTE).
With more than 550 years of combined experience, these NATS-affiliated arborists came together from across the globe – from as far away as Sweden – to share best practices, strengthen relationships with colleagues, and undergo hands-on competency assessments in regards to the disciplines they teach as NATS instructors and safety professionals.
“Safety in our industry is paramount,” said Ed Carpenter, CEO/President, NATS. “What we do with our assessments is take the safety standards and regulations and lay them out in a hands-on assessment method to where people have to physically demonstrate that yes, they understand and they can perform whatever the specific task is in a hands-on setting.
“We’re making the method of assessment match the expectation, not just vetting knowledge and skills through a paper- or computer-based test, but actually having them (arboriculture professionals) physically do hands-on skills. The whole essence of this is to break that lagging indicator trend of letting accident and fatality statistics steer our decision making as an industry. ”
In regards to Skills Extravaganza, Ed added, “It is an ambitious endeavor to assess a group of this size and scale – assessing this number of people in all of these diversified disciplines in a single event with all the operational constraints of no cell service and limited Wifi makes the event a real challenge.”
NATS Assistant Instructor Justin Hofmeister was one of the arboriculture professionals who attended Skills Extravaganza. When asked why he decided to carve time out of his schedule to be a part of the program, he said, “I needed to come here to prove not only to myself, but to other people, that I am qualified to do this type of work. I want to get outside of my comfort zone.”
August Schilling, who has 28 years of experience in the industry, echoed Justin’s sentiments when he said, “This group of people makes me feel really comfortable, and they challenge me in a way that I love being challenged, that I need to be challenged at this stage of my life.
“They make me comfortable enough that I don’t fear failure, and I know I’m going to learn.”
The nine disciplines highlighted during Skills Extravaganza included three mandatory assessments for all participants: Basic Personal Protective Equipment, Tree Risk Assessment and Job Briefing/Job Site Analysis. Six elective discipline assessments were also available during the week-long program: Chainsaw Safety and Cutting Techniques, Clearing Saw Safety and Cutting Techniques, Technical Tree Climbing, Fall Protection Personal Protective Equipment, Arborist Aerial Technical Rescue and Arborist Technical Rigging. Hands-on tasks may have included climbing more than 100 feet into the air to perform rigging or an aerial rescue, or being assessed on how to safely operate a chainsaw or clearing saw, depending on the skill set being assessed.
Aside from the mandatory assessments, participants had the opportunity to choose additional disciplines in which they wanted to be assessed; many chose to be assessed in all of the disciplines offered.
“I didn’t know what to expect (coming into Skills Extravaganza),” said Emily Roberts, who has 11 years of professional arboriculture experience. “I was not feeling super confident about a lot of my skills because I don’t really have much of a measuring stick to go off of.
“I was maybe going to do two or three of the assessments…and I decided I’ll just go for all of them. I thought, ‘I’ll just see what I know and what I don’t know, and where I can grow.”
With an abundance of towering trees, a stunning natural landscape and its remote location within Sequoia National Forest and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, Hume proved to be the ideal location for Skills Extravaganza.
“In December 2018, we held our first event at Hume Lake Christian Camp, Train the Trainer, and all of the attendees fell in love,” explains Karen Hauck, Marketing and Partner Relations Director with NATS. “We felt that it was the ideal place for tree work and training because it’s such a large property with all different sizes and species of trees, and the environment is really conducive to education and training, as well as team-building and camaraderie.
“So, when we decided we wanted to hold Skills Extravaganza, we immediately thought of Hume and knew that was going to be the perfect place for us.”
During the assessments, the team of evaluators worked one-on-one with those being evaluated to complete a pre-determined set of competencies customized for each discipline. The competencies included extensive discussions, as well as hands-on demonstrations by those being evaluated to showcase their working knowledge of each discipline. Some evaluations had upwards of 60 tasks to be completed, and each was assigned a numerical score by the evaluators. All scores were then totaled for a final score and levels of competency determined for that particular discipline: Demonstrates Proficiency, Demonstrates Competency, Additional Practice or Experience Required, or Additional Training Required.
“There’s a great deal of confidence that goes with somebody assessing you and indicating through that process that yes, you do in fact have a high level of knowledge,” said Dwayne Neustaeter, president, ACTE. “You might feel you know it, but it’s something else to have that verified.”
In addition to the challenges the assessments themselves presented, Mother Nature threw a few curve balls during the week, too. Skills Extravaganza participants worked through weather from all four seasons, including snow, sleet, rain and even sunny skies – sometimes all within the same day! – and we persevered.
The week also gave our team members a chance to come together for some team building and to simply spend time together. As a national organization, we don’t have that opportunity often, and being together and nurturing our camaraderie is part of what makes these types of events thrive.
At the end of the week, 201 competency assessments were conducted during Skills Extravaganza, and those who achieved scores of Demonstrates Proficiency and Demonstrates Competency received certificates of their achievements for each discipline in which they excelled.
“I accomplished all (of the assessments), and I did better in most of them than I anticipated,” said Emily. “I’m really impressed with all the evaluators and their skills at evaluating, and their technical skills and ability to explain things. So much information has been exchanged. So many connections, too; getting to know people I didn’t know yet, getting to know others more.
“It’s just been a really phenomenal experience.”
“The culture that is NATS – our mission of Serve, Share, Support – means we’ve got a strong connection with each other, and a strong connection to the industry. These are passionate professionals who really love what they do. Not like but truly love what they do,” said Ed. “Skills was really a culmination of our team being able to express their talents in this beautiful location in Hume, California.
“It was awesome.”