Davey Tree’s roots firmly in employee education

By Katie Byard, Beacon Journal business writer

Read the story below or see it in the Akron Beacon Journal.

KENT: In 1909, John Davey began a formal program to pass on his knowledge of trees to employees at his growing tree service company.

More than 100 years later, Davey Tree Expert Co. workers from all over the country still make a pilgrimage to Kent for intensive training.

At the four-week program, they learn all things trees — from the subject of pruning to diseases and pests that threaten them, to environmental benefits.

“The program does have a significant historical awe to it,” said Wil Head, 43, a plant health care technician who works for Davey in the Washington, D.C., area.

The education, he said, “is something that’s almost similar to going to college again.”

He’s one of 49 Davey employees who graduated Friday from the training, called the Davey Institute of Tree Sciences.

Davey Tree’s history loomed large in one outdoor session that included tree identification.

The employees went to Standing Rock Cemetery, across from the company’s headquarters on North Mantua Street.

The cemetery is where John Davey worked as a caretaker before founding the company in 1880, using the cemetery as a tree-care laboratory of sorts. Davey, who died in 1923, also is buried there.

Davey Tree invests in the training, paying employees regular wages and picking up the tab for transportation to Kent and lodging at an area motel.

Workers in the training program this week said the investment pays off for Davey Tree, which has 7,000 employees and is among the top 15 largest employee-owned companies in the United States.

“Employees here can bring back what they learn to individuals they work with,” said Kris Bruestle, 37, who has a four-year degree in conservation biology and is a Davey Tree landscape foreman, working in tree survey and plant health care in the Columbus area. “They can carry that education forward.”

Davey Tree spokeswoman Sandra Reid acknowledged some other companies are cutting back on training.

“We’ve been increasing our training,” she said, “and we see that as something that separates us from the competition.

Reid said the Davey Institute of Tree Sciences and other training “are developing the future of our company.”

The first training — in 1909 — was modeled after a college-degree program, with workers coming to Kent for fourth-month terms over three consecutive winters.

“When they came in 1909, there was actually a Davey barracks where employees stayed,” Reid said. “There were athletic competitions with Kent State University students.”

After World War II, training was reduced to six weeks and focused on brushing up the skills of employees returning from military service.

Today, students are in class six days a week for four weeks, taking tests each week.

Earlier this week, Bal Rao, Davey Institute manager of research and technical development, tested students on their ability to diagnose and remedy plant problems, including diseases, insects and environmental stress such as too-little water.

“Tree patients don’t talk when they are suffering or in trouble,” said Rao, a 34-year Davey employee. “So we have to study the problem with the help of the customer. This education should help employees to prepare for problem solving.”

“It could be a little overwhelming,” said Anatoliy Andreyev, 25, a foreman in charge of a three-man crew who works for Davey near Sacramento, Calif. “The more time you put into it for yourself, the more you get out of it.”

Andreyev was among the younger students in the training, with only two years at Davey Tree. Typically, supervisors recommend employees for the program after they have worked at least three years for the company.

Melanie Tweedle, 26, was a tree trimmer before she began working as a Davey sales representative in Ontario, Canada.

“I’m fairly young in the industry,” she said while taking a break from classes. “I’ve had several women influence me and I hope to do the same.”

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.

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