We thought it would be a fitting end to Women’s History Month to post a column written by Amy Burkett, currently the only woman on TCIA’s Board of Directors. This item ran in TCIA’s January/February Reporter newsletter, but TCIA staff feel it deserves a wider audience.
It’s no secret – I was not raised in the tree care industry, as many of you may have been. After high school, I attended Texas Tech with a double major in marketing and finance. I had notions of grandeur; I would easily be making six figures right out of college, working for a big company somewhere amazing, standing alongside professionals making important decisions, and that would result in a good living, dressing nicely and eating well. My perception of a “professional’’ growing up was definitely of someone white collar, clean cut, organized and well put together.
I graduated Texas Tech in 2006, was hired on at the biggest corporate beast in town and was offered a whopping $28K a year (take home) with two four-year degrees from a respected business school. Not exactly what I had been told growing up! I will admit, I learned so much during my time in that world, things that will benefit me for the rest of my career. However, I wasn’t passionate about what I did every single day.
My husband went to a local community college and earned an associate degree in horticulture. In 2005, when we were in our early 20s, he started a lawn and tree company with a $5,000 loan. He loved what he did, coming home every day dirty, tired and happy, with firewood to stack and brush to burn. This was before we had chippers and nice equipment.
In 2012, I began attending the ISA Texas Chapter educational events and climbing championships, shadowing him to be supportive of his “little business.” What I was really taken by and what won my heart over was when I immediately noticed the brotherhood and sisterhood in this niche industry.
What a breath of fresh air! Business conferences where people welcome you with open arms, competitors screaming and cheering for each other at climbing competitions, coaching each other between events, lending each other gear in the event something didn’t pass inspection (ultimately helping your direct competitor) and going out for happy hour afterward. There was no (or very little) backstabbing or ulterior motives at hand, just a love for trees and the people who care for them, good times and adrenaline flowing from pure passion. I was blown away. This is something I would never have seen in my former career.
Trees and the benefits of trees were so important they were transcending and breaking down many barriers that exist in other segments of society. These were the real professionals I had always dreamed of working alongside. I was falling in love with the tree care industry, and especially the people who are pushing it forward, focused on establishing/keeping the standards high while continuously raising the bar and, ultimately, saving lives with their protocols.
I had a big life-changing decision to make. Should I keep my corporate career (by this time I had advanced several positions and was making better money), keep the full benefits and all that entails – i.e., retirement subsidies, etc. – or leave my career and join my husband in the tree care industry, incurring all those costs ourselves?
Leap of faith
In 2014, my husband, Tyler, joined TCIA. That same year he accomplished about a dozen various goals I had set up for him. Honestly, I had felt they were impossible – LOL. In 2015, I left my corporate career and we became business partners by forming our current company, Burkett Arbor Care, LLC. Our journey had officially begun! Since that time, it is TCIA that has stolen my heart. The Association not only includes many professional arborists/consultants and business-minded individuals, but also every field worker who is determined to be more professional, learn new skills and further their career. Inclusion, not exclusion, is the key. I had finally found my home. TCIA membership was the missing link I had been looking for.
An ever-changing workplace, yet many issues stay the same
Obviously, my opinions have changed over time. Growing up, I thought professionals could only be white-collar. Why is that? Our public schools may discuss trees and other natural systems for one day or one week a year, but is that enough? I was able to recognize that those who are often considered traditional blue-collar workers can be the true professionals. Of course, my conversion was mainly because the closest person in my life, my husband, was in love with trees and tree care already, and I was directly exposed to it through him. But how do we reach other professionals in the situation I was in, who are interested in the green industry but are not yet a part of it? And how can we show the value of these jobs and this industry to the general public?
Coast to coast, every company needs employees in all positions. Should we all just continue to complain about this year after year, à la Groundhog Day? How is that working out for you/us? What can we do to build interest to fill these open spots in the coming decades, not only by other professionals not currently in the industry, but also younger generations?
A good place to start is by putting our best foot forward and acting like true professionals. We can challenge and incentivize each one of our employees to bring someone in – someone they can vouch for – who is not already in the tree industry, for an interview. We could potentially change a lot of lives while filling positions at every company. During the intense labor crunch this summer/fall, this worked very well for us.
If we challenged each tree company to plant a small/medium tree for each tree they removed, or to participate in their local National Arbor Day event or other regular community events, this would change every community. If every professional tree worker spoke at their children’s school about the benefits of trees and how amazing the industry is, would that not inspire potentially thousands more young people to get into the industry?
I know there have been great stewards of this industry promoting the industry for decades, but what if everyone currently qualified to do so did it? I know if trees could change my life, and before me, my husband’s life, we can change many other lives as well and bring them into our community.
Something the world is in desperate need of right now is something to belong to that’s greater than themselves, regardless of gender, religious affiliation or race. This is an industry that brings all those things together and can transcend many of our societal issues, while also doing great things for our communities and the planet. Young people need to know this! I feel strongly they will care, even more so than generations past.
Amy Burkett is co-owner, along with her husband, Tyler Burkett, CTSP, of Burkett Arbor Care, LLC, an accredited, seven-year TCIA member company based in Boerne, Texas. She is also a member of the TCIA Board of Directors.