The Arboriculture program at Stockbridge School of Agriculture is actively partnering with PowerCorps Boston, a federally funded program to train under-employed adults for living-wage careers in the green industries and other growing fields.
And the results are getting noticed.
“Power Corps Boston contacted me, because they knew about our certificate program in arboriculture,” says Kristina Bezanson, program coordinator for the Arboriculture associate degree program at Stockbridge, and pictured above in a group selfie with students.
“The 15-credit certificate in arboriculture is fully online,” says Bezanson. “Stockbridge designed the certificate to be a mini-version of our two-year associate degree.”
PowerCorps Boston Addresses Need for Skilled Green Industry Workers
PowerCorps, previously known as AmeriCorps, offers a six-month “earn and learn” green-jobs training program that pays adult participants nearly $16 per hour to attend hands-on learning opportunities that rapidly prepare them for skilled careers.
“At our core, we’re a workforce development program,” says program director Joey Pellegrino. Power Corps Boston also provides career-readiness support, teaching soft skills such as teamwork and communication that apply to most careers, and connecting participants with local employers in the green industries.
Pellegrino cites “a serious need for park rangers” in the local area. “We are focused on arboriculture, but we’re also focused on horticulture, property maintenance, park operations, and even have a budding partnership with the Boston Park Rangers here.”
Even before the pandemic. Kristina Bezanson of Stockbridge was quick to notice the same needs, alongside increasing interest from older students in the Boston area seeking to learn arboriculture and urban forestry skills.
But no classes of the sort were offered in the region.
UMass Programs Extended to Provide Hands-On Skills Training in Boston
When UMass bought the Mount Ida college campus in Newton, Bezanson saw an opportunity to offer in-person courses, in the Boston area, as a real-world addition to the university’s online certificate program in arboriculture. That’s when PowerCorps Boston reached out to her.
“Overall, our mission is to get under-employed folks from Boston into career positions they otherwise may not be able to access,” says Pellegrino.
“We have different tracks we build out,” says Pellegrino. By partnering with the Stockbridge Arboriculture program, PowerCorps Boston hopes to develop job training programs that give participants “the skills to get into a tree-climber-trainee position at a private company or municipality.”
Marking the successful start of this collaboration, the university’s Principles of Arboriculture course is now taught in-person at the Mt Ida campus over 14 weeks. To participate, students must be residents of Boston between 18 and 30 years old, with a high school diploma or GED, and an interest in hands-on outdoor job training.
The course includes classroom work, hands-on service projects in the field, and focused development of skills leading to career success, such as resume writing and public speaking.
“Most of them are not necessarily going to go off to college,” says Bezanson. “We’re trying to get them good-paying jobs in urban forestry and arboriculture.” 21 of 23 participants from the first cycle graduated with the skills to seek entry level work, and several have found jobs in the tree care industry.
The hands-on learning focus, which is the historic specialty of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture has proven successful in providing the experiential learning style best suited for under-employed adults.
“They did a lot of hands-on work,” says Bezanson. “They worked at Franklin Park a lot, they worked for the Audubon Society, they did a lot of invasive-species removal, they did a lot of tree-planting projects, and pruning.”
The Stockbridge Reputation in the Green Industries Matters to Employers
After 150 years, the quality of talent produced by Stockbridge is well known across the green industries, including by our alumni many of who run their own companies and seek additional skilled workers.
The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), a professional organization advancing safety and professional standards in the field, has featured the collaboration between Stockbridge and PowerCorps Boston in their TCI magazine.
Using her own professional connections in arboriculture, Bezanson brought in representatives from TCIA-accredited companies to provide guest lectures, and demonstrations of proper chainsaw use, climbing techniques, and other skills.
Feigning secrecy, Bezanson happily reports that “Everyone was kind of softly recruiting the students as they were demonstrating or giving a lecture.”
One goal of the program is for students to learn which work roles in the industry might suit them best. “Not every participant is going to want to climb a tree,” says Pellegrino, “and that’s why we put them through a tree-climbing workshop to see what it’s going to be like on that job.” There are plenty of tree-care positions available to those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground.
As a Certified Arborist, “my goal is to get them into this career,” admits Pellegrino, but he also seeks to provide skilled workers to other green industries in the area, such as the horticulture teams at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo, and Stone Zoo in Stoneham, MA.
While many found employment, some have chosen to apply for the on-campus associate degree program at Stockbridge. Credits from the certificate program can be transferred into the two-year associate degree program to shorten the time to completion.
The Stockbridge collaboration with PowerCorps Boston is now running for its second time with 30 participants. Interested Boston residents can learn how to apply to the PowerCorps Boston program.
The Stockbridge two-year associate degree in Arboriculture and Community Forest Management is available on the UMass Amherst campus.
Publicly funded universities like UMass create long-term economic benefits for the state and the region. 72% of UMass Amherst Class of 2021 graduates reported gainful employment in Massachusetts, and the majority of what they are paid will be spent locally to support our state’s economy.
Photo credit: David Rattigan of TCIA Magazine