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DTE Energy’s Tree Trim Academy: Improving Energy Reliability and Changing Lives

image credit: Source: DTE Energy
Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has nearly 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked...

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  • Aug 17, 2021 3:39 pm GMT
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The DTE Energy Tree Trim Academy is a first-of-its-kind program established to train a diverse cross-section of tree trimmers from the local Detroit community. The program was designed to create high-paying jobs and wraparound services that enable participants to avoid obstacles that might otherwise prevent a successful transition into a rewarding career.

Since April of 2021, the program has graduated 20 people. While the number is still relatively low, the impact has been high. Elizabeth Durham, Corporate Communications at DTE stated, “We know that 70% of customer outage time is due in some way to trees and several years ago we decided to build out tree trimming efforts with vendors and by training local folks to do this work in the community.”

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In addition to the energy reliability component, Durham noted the critical aspect of ensured participant success. She stated, “Graduates can hit the ground running with vendors on Day 1, as informed members of an established tree trimming clearance team.”  

Ready for Day 1 and Beyond

The Tree Trim Academy was created in collaboration with the City of Detroit’s Mayor’s office, Focus: HOPE, Detroit at Work, and IBEW Local 17. All of these contributors have been instrumental in launching the program, but IBEW Local 17 has played a crucial role. Durham explained, “IBEW Local 17 provides instructors for the tree trimming training, and graduates go directly into their apprenticeship pipeline and are awarded a journeyman card. We share with the group the deep desire to communicate opportunities to many folks who may not be aware of this career track.”

The training program was mindfully built to ensure participant success. The six-week curriculum provides graduates with numerous skills, including herbivore training, tree trimming basics, customer service preparation, and wraparound services such as transportation, childcare, and financial literacy instruction. Graduates leave the program with a Class E drivers’ license. The training is paid to ensure a larger pool of applicants may be included. In short, participants get everything they need to begin their first job the day after they finish the program.

Starting positions offer $16/hour, health benefits within four months, and fast advancement within an apprenticeship track. Durham said, “It’s a true career and so impactful for people who have families and are looking for a career where they can grow. Line clearance tree trimmers can make as much as $100K per year or even more with overtime.”

Safety First

Tree trimming is dangerous work, and the program puts a big emphasis on safety. Durham explained that this focus is nothing new for DTE Energy. “Safety first is embedded in our culture. We start every meeting with a message about safety for ourselves, our crews, and our communities. It’s something that’s interwoven in our work, and everyone is expected to be 300% accountable for safety. For teams who are out in the field, there is always a robust safety aspect to their training. That’s a big part of why our partnership with IBEW Local 17 — which has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor for its safety practices — is so important.”

Moving Forward

The Tree Trim Academy is expected to create 200 high-paying jobs in Detroit by 2024, and a total of 60 by the end of 2021. Durham hopes to see the program continue its 100% success record in terms of every participant getting a job upon graduation.

Reflecting on the program so far, Durham noted that it will continue to take a “screen in” approach, which entails finding a place for people who are engaged and committed. She shared the example of an applicant who heard about the program on Facebook, saying, “I love trees and want to be involved, but I don’t want to work at heights.” Typically, said Durham, someone like her would be screened out, but given the program’s career diversity philosophy, she was brought into the program and trained in a tree trim planning role.

Durham stated, “This is a great example of the approach we wanted to take. If someone is really interested, let’s try our best to find an opportunity for them.” Durham is certain that, as the program progresses, she will have similar success stories to share.

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