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Establishing a Green Workforce Program for Sustainable Urban Forests in San Antonio

Bexar Branches Alliance (BBA) was established with the primary goal of reforesting and conserving the existing tree canopy in the San Antonio Region. Recognizing a pressing need, discussions both inside and outside of BBA have highlighted the necessity of implementing a Green Workforce Development Program in our area.

According to American Forests (AF), there’s a significant shortage of labor in the tree industry, estimating an annual requirement of about 8,300 workers nationwide.

Bexar County offers an array of workforce development initiatives across various fields, yet unfortunately, none of these cater to the tree care industry. By exploring successful workforce development initiatives within the nationwide green industry, we can gather valuable insights and models to create a program that meets the needs of our region.

From the outset, BBA acknowledged the importance of partnering with successful organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation (ADF). Becoming a member of the ADF’s Alliance For Community Trees Network (ACTrees) enabled BBA to engage with community-based organizations dedicated to tree planting and care. The acceptance into the ACTrees Mentor Exchange Program allowed me to visit and learn from Tree Trust in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Tree Trust, with almost 50 years of workforce development success, became a mentor to BBA due to its impactful programs. Their initiatives, such as the Summer Youth Program, engage participants aged 14-21 in hands-on experiences, improving local parks and green spaces. Through programs like Branches and YouthBuild, Tree Trust offers paid training, skill development, industry credentials, and opportunities for career advancement.

During the visit to Tree Trust, I had the chance to witness the Summer Youth Employment Program Awards Ceremony, celebrating over 30,000 hours of dedicated work enhancing local parks. Additionally, participants in the Branches Program were recognized by the St. Paul City Forester at the City Council meeting for their collaborative efforts in planting street trees, contributing to the city’s tree canopy goals.

Tree Trust’s commitment to providing professional skills, training, and meaningful work experiences for various age groups — from high school students to young adults — was truly inspiring. Their insights and advice on establishing a sustainable workforce development program were invaluable.

I express my gratitude to the Arbor Day Foundation for facilitating this enriching experience and to the incredible team at Tree Trust for their generosity in sharing expertise and success stories. Bexar Branches Alliance and the San Antonio Region have gained an ally and a resource in the effort to expand and preserve the urban forests throughout the country.

As our climate gets hotter and drier, the stress on our urban trees grows. Having a skilled workforce that can properly care for our trees is paramount to the prolonged health and vitality of our urban forest.

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