Consulting Utility Forester SessionTraining + Development
Jessica Critchett is a lead consulting utility forester (CUF) with CNUC, working in Tennessee. She joined CNUC in 2014 and has been in her current role since 2016.
On January 5, 2018, Randall H. Miller (RHM), CNUC’s director of research, development and industry intelligence, sat down with Jessica (JC) to discuss her career in the industry and with CNUC. Here’s their discussion:
RHM: How did you become interested in utility vegetation management?
JC: Utility arboriculture was mentioned briefly when I was studying forestry at the Thompson School of Applied Science at the University of New Hampshire, but I didn’t give it much thought. When I got out of school, I was working in construction and was frustrated because I wasn’t using my degree. I started looking around for natural resource related jobs, and saw a CNUC job posting that intrigued me. The more I looked into it, the more it attracted me. It involved working outside with trees, hiking and it emphasized customer service. It was all consistent with my interests.
RHM: What attracted you to CNUC?
JC: When I considered CNUC and its history – starting with the investigation of the 2003 blackout and on to their commitment to their customers and employees – I felt it was the type of organization I wanted to be part of. It’s a close-knit company, like a big family spread nationally.
RHM: What is it about your job that makes you keep coming to work every day?
JC: I love being outdoors and I enjoy customer service. Customer service is 90 percent of my job. I work for a cooperative, and I pride myself on that. It’s a very personable community. We come along and tell members we must prune their trees from the power lines and intend to do it in ways they might not like. I get a lot of satisfaction in working through people’s concerns, educating them on vegetation and helping them to understand that our work is in their best interest, and in the best interest of the trees under the circumstances. I also like the variety. I can be in one area one day auditing tree work and at the other end of the system another, planning tree work. Every day is different, even with the weather. I like that I’m using my degree, it’s intellectually challenging and I’m outside. It’s a perfect fit for me right now. And I learn something new every day.
RHM: What do you find most satisfying about being a lead CUF?
JC: I like supporting my team members. It requires me to be resourceful and be there when I am needed. I often refer to myself as the ‘Mama Bear’. I get satisfaction knowing everyone can depend on me. It also offers me more responsibility and opportunity. For example, right now, we have a new position open. I’m working to recruit the right person for the job and partnering with my regional manager to schedule interviews.
RHM: What is your biggest challenge as a lead CUF?
JC: Time management – keeping things organized and working in a timely manner. For example, it seems things like new tires, truck thermostats and other maintenance concerns all pop up at the same time, and I coordinate to get these things taken care of. Then I’m responsible for employee timesheets, incident reports, and other administration duties that come to me first for processing. Currently, I’m reviewing resumes, scheduling interviews, onboarding and training new CUFs. All the while, I still have my regular CUF responsibilities.
RHM: How would you suggest overcoming your biggest challenge?
JC: Staying organized. I have to concentrate and prioritize all that I have in front of me. If I wasn’t organized, I could easily lose track of one thing or another that needs to be done. Members, the utility, and employees all depend on me.
RHM: What helps make you successful?
JC: My education absolutely helps. It’s more than just forestry; it gives me a strong foundation to succeed. The knowledge I have gained through being ISA [International Society of Arboriculture] Certified helps me on a daily basis. I also think it’s important to take care of yourself – eat a balanced diet, sleep and exercise. I work hard, think outside the box, and take a lot of pride in my work.
RHM: What training or professional development is most useful to you?
JC: ISA conferences are beneficial. The Tennessee Vegetation Management Association has a worthwhile program. I think short online videos targeted at lead CUFs help my professional development. I would like to have more training on interviewing and hiring. I’m not sure what form that would take, but I think it would help. Being able to offer a multitude of skills to any job in any industry is incredibly valuable.
RHM: What training would you like to see your reports receive?
JC: For us, I think we underutilize range finders. They are a useful tool and CUFs would use them more often with additional training. I think there are also some outdated sections in the planner guidelines in our utility’s specifications; I have been partnering with vegetation specialists to streamline an updated version of these. This includes finding clarity, removing ambiguity and modernizing protocols. A while ago, our utility conducted safety training at one of their quarterly meetings, which was excellent. They also gave us a seminar on customer service about problem customers and how to approach and mitigate certain issues; it was very useful because a ton of what we do is damage control. We are so focused now on customer service; the utility’s management team wants us to improve and evolve in that direction. So more training in that regard is in order.
RHM: What are your most pressing safety concerns and how are you overcoming them?
JC: Driving is my most pressing safety concern. We are road warriors, and streets and highways can be dangerous. I constantly worry about our team members’ safety on the road. The only way to overcome the pressures on the road is having weekly safety trainings and discussions. You have to be alert and have your head on a swivel at all times when you are driving or working around roads.
RHM: What guidance would you provide to young women interested in the profession?
JC: If you want a challenging, customer-focused job working outside with trees, go for it. The profession needs more females taking an interest. I think we often offer a different approach to problem solving than many males, and that can help any program. I’ve never had a problem fitting in the industry or felt out of place. I have never said no to opportunities offered. There is a place for you if you bring passion, charisma, and a willingness to learn. There is a lot of opportunity, and I’d love to see more women involved.
RHM: What advice would you give anyone fresh out of college who wanted to get into this profession?
JC: Much of what I’d say to women. A lot of students are unaware of all the opportunity in vegetation management. Yet, there are enormous prospects, along with advancement opportunities in vegetation management companies and potentially with utilities as well. If that interests you, go for it!