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Microsoft in your community

Training for tree care in San Antonio with American Forests

At almost 150 years old, American Forests is one of the nation’s oldest conservation organizations. In the beginning, known then as the American Forestry Association, the organization originated ideas for the national forest system and U.S. Forest Service. Since then, it has advocated for the expansion of national forests, pioneered tree planting, and created growth in the urban forestry sector with geographic information system (GIS) mapping. In recent years, American Forests has shifted more focus to slowing climate action and advancing social and racial equity.

By creating a career pathways team, American Forests is addressing a workforce gap in the tree care industry. Through direct placement models, training support, and partnerships with area-specific organizations, it is working to provide opportunities to connect people with jobs.

Expanding job reach in San Antonio with virtual training

To address the workforce gap in the tree care industry, American Forests looked to get involved in specific areas. Through its research, the organization found that San Antonio, Texas had a lot of job openings and few trained people to enter the industry.

The initial step of the project in San Antonio was for American Forests to host training sessions for those who were interested in learning more about the tree care industry, available jobs, professional intro-level training, and opportunities to connect with employers. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the format of its training sessions shifted from in-person to virtual. Virtual trainings focused on introductory topics like tree identification and basic tree care and safety. And while virtual was never the goal for American Forests, the organization was able to create a structure that will help provide training in the future.

“We still see this as a success as we created a template for a replicable course that’s incredibly valuable for people interested in an introduction to professional tree care that can be delivered both virtually and in person,” said Tiffany Mrotek, Director of Career Pathways.

Engaging the community through local partners

Following the virtual sessions, a small in-person networking event held outdoors in a San Antonio park helped pave the way for American Forests to continue training in the area. Now, American Forests is looking forward to having an in-person event where it can use workforce partners and local nonprofits to connect potential workers with jobs in the field. “One of the critical ways we can have an impact especially as a national organization is to get on the ground and meet with these local community-based organizations,” Mrotek said.

Finding the right local workforce partners and supporting their work is important for American Forest’s goal of connecting and engaging with a specific community. Throughout the pandemic, funding from Microsoft helped American Forests to follow through with its community goals in San Antonio. “Microsoft was the first corporation that wanted to look at it in a place-based way in a city aligned with where American Forests would want to have a presence,” said Lindsey Putz, Senior Director of Corporate Partnerships. An early grant from Microsoft allowed American Forests to turn its pilot into a more visible and established program.

Through its in-person training events, American Forests will offer a combination of instructional content as well as a volunteer aspect with partner Bexar Branches Alliance, an urban forestry nonprofit in the greater San Antonio region.