Becoming an Arborist: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of becoming an arborist? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an arborist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Arborist

Arborists work with trees and shrubs to help keep them healthy and flourishing. You can learn about the pros and cons to becoming an arborist by reading below.

Pros of Becoming an Arborist
Average job growth (13% from 2012 to 2022 for all grounds maintenance workers)*
Good job opportunities, especially in areas with temperate climates*
Minimal education requirements in some cases*
On-the-job training is often provided*

Cons of Becoming an Arborist
Wages are below the national average (In May 2014, the average income for tree trimmers and pruners was about $35,150)*
Job openings are only seasonal in some areas*
High rate of work-related illnesses and injuries (In 2010, the fatal injury rate for this field was 14.3 per 100,000 full-time workers)*
Physically demanding*
Hearing damage is possible if safety gear isn't worn*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Responsibilities

Sometimes referred to as tree doctors, arborists examine and take care of trees and shrubs with structural, nutritional and disease issues. They may evaluate tree color and texture to see if there is any decay or damage. If there is a problem with a tree, the arborist might take samples and send them to a lab for examination.

Arborists also perform pruning and trimming on trees and shrubs, including removing dead branches as well as living branches that are obstructions. These activities can involve climbing a tree with special gear or using a mechanical lift. In order to avoid injuries, an arborist has to wear safety gear and be extremely careful when working with saws, shears, clippers and other tools.

Arborists might work for government organizations and help tend any locations with plants, like urban neighborhoods or national parks. You can also seek employment with colleges and universities that have campuses to maintain. The recreation industry also hires arborists to help tend theme parks, camping sites or other locations that see a lot of visitors.

Salary and Job Outlook

In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the average hourly income for arborists was about $16.90, making their average annual salary around $35,150 (www.bls.gov). The top-paying industries for arborists are federal, local and state governments, along with electric power generators and universities. If you find yourself working as an arborist in Alaska, New York, Hawaii, Massachusetts or New Jersey, then you're working in one of the five top-paying states for this occupation.

From 2012 to 2022, the job employment growth for ground maintenance workers is expected to increase by 13%. This is a result of large institutions and businesses (along with many homeowners) requiring help in maintaining their plant life. The building/dwelling service industry and the local government were the two industries with the highest concentration of employment for tree trimmers and pruners.

Education and Training Requirements

A high school diploma or GED is beneficial in this field. Normally, no postsecondary education is required for entry-level arborist positions. Most arborists complete on-the-job training for removing and disposing of branches. To perform a health diagnosis on a tree, postsecondary education is usually required. A bachelor's degree in a subject like forestry is preferred by many employers when hiring an arborist for a higher-level position like landscape contractor. If you continue your education to the graduate level, you might find employment in a research position or as an expert witness in court cases involving trees. The following skills are beneficial in this line of work: critical thinking, coordinating, active listening, precision, steady hands and good reaction time.

Licensing

The majority of states require licensing and/or certification for working with pesticides. Specifics vary by state, but they usually involve an examination to test your knowledge of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides. Additionally, a valid driver's license is a common requirement in this career, since arborists often work in many locations.

What Employers Want in Arborists

This profession typically requires limited supervision, so employers want applicants who can problem-solve, make decisions and work independently, as well as being able to get work done in a timely and effective fashion. Some employers prefer candidates with a degree or specialty certification. Most want arborists who already have credentials for using pesticides. Take a look at what real employers were looking for on CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com in March 2012.

  • A tree care company in Iowa needed an arborist experienced with using a bucket truck and spikeless tree climbing.
  • An urban forestry business in New York required an arborist with 3-5 years of experience in sales.
  • In California, there was an opening for a tree care estimator with interpersonal, communication, computer and business skills.
  • A 1-year contract position in Connecticut requested an arborist with an associate's or bachelor's degree in forestry or arboriculture.
  • A lawn and landscaping business in North Carolina sought a line-clearance arborist with the ability to understand circuit maps and a background in electrical hardware.

How to Stand Out as an Arborist

Obtaining a bachelor's degree is one of the best things you can do to stand out from other arborists. Not only would your education provide you with an extensive knowledge of trees, it could show that you have a strong interest in and commitment to the field. Certifications are another possible way to attract the attention of employers. Organizations, including the Tree Care Industry Association, offer credentials such as tree care apprentice, tree climber specialist, tree care specialist, aerial lift specialist and grounds operation specialist (www.tcia.org). There are also safety-oriented certification programs. Possessing excellent communication skills is yet another way to stand out and demonstrate leadership or supervisory potential.

Other Careers

If you want to help protect plants from insects and other dangers, consider becoming a pesticide applicator. You work with fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and pesticides depending on the problem you're trying to eliminate. The material you work with might come in the form of vapors, chemical applications, dusts and sprays. You'll safely apply this material to the infected plant life while observing all the proper safety protocols to ensure no one is endangered by exposure to these chemicals. The BLS reported that pesticide handlers earned a comparable salary to arborists, at around $32,000 on average in May 2011; however, the employment outlook isn't as promising for pesticide handlers, who have a 10% projected growth rate between 2010-2020.

If you want to work in agriculture but you dislike being outdoors, look into being an agricultural technician. In a laboratory setting, you store samples of crops and animals and then analyze those samples later on. When you're examining a specimen, you're looking to see if there are any diseases present, as well as analyzing and measuring the performance of agricultural products. Agricultural technicians earned more than arborists as of May 2011, making an average of about $36,000 according to the BLS.

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Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Certificate in Science, Technology, and International Security Studies
  • Certificate in Science Writing

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Kaplan University

  • Bachelor: Environmental Policy and Management

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Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma: Wildlife/Forestry Conservation

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctorate: Management - Environmental & Social Sustainability

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Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Graduate Biology Certificate

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
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Excelsior College

  • BS in Social Sciences (Environmental Studies)
  • BS in Natural Sciences (Biology)
  • BS in Natural Sciences [Without Concentration]

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Southern New Hampshire University

  • BS Environmental Science
  • BS in Geosciences concentration in Natural Resources & Conservation
  • BA Anthropology w/conc in Environmental Sustainability

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