Becoming a Utility Arborist: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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Learn about a utility arborist's job duties, salary and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a career as a utility arborist.
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A Utility Arborist Career: Pros and Cons

Utility arborists manage the location and maintain the growth of trees, to prevent power outages, keep transportation moving and ensure public safety. The following pros and cons may help you decide if a career as a utility arborist would be right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Utility Arborist
Meaningful work that helps keep the public safe*
Possibility of entry-level position without a college degree*
Opportunity to work outside*
Can advance to a supervisory position*

Cons of a Career as a Utility Arborist
Bachelor's degree typically required to become a forester**
Possible exposure to electrical and chemical hazards**
People in poor physical condition may not be suited to this kind of work**
May endure physical injuries from falls**
Individual tasks may require use of dangerous equipment*

Sources: *International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Info

Utility arborists, or foresters, maintain and manage trees that are located near power lines and railroads. They proactively prevent trees from causing power outages and interfering with transportation. Some of a utility arborist's responsibilities can include planning tree maintenance, awarding maintenance contracts and conducting follow-up inspections. They also examine newly installed lines for clearance capabilities and assess vegetation control and wildlife management programs.

In an instructional role, utility arborists educate the public about what types of trees are appropriate for planting near power lines and the importance of tree maintenance. This is primarily a supervisory position, and for the most part, utility arborists will not be pruning any trees themselves. However, to ensure the safety of themselves and their staffs, utility arborists will need to be aware of the hazards associated with electrical sources, herbicides, power tools, and the heavy, moving equipment used to maintain trees.

Job Outlook and Salary Info

As more cities and towns plant more trees in urban areas, utility arborists will continue to provide valuable services to communities. According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May 2014, the median annual salary for a forester was about $58,000. The BLS predicts a 6% growth for forester jobs between 2012-2022. In addition to public utility companies and commercial tree services, utility arborists can be employed by city, county and other government agencies, landscape maintenance firms and arboricultural manufacturers.

Training Requirements

According to the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), while a college degree in a green industry major is preferred, the credential is not always required to work as a utility arborist (www.isa-arbor.com). For some entry-level positions, employers might provide on-the-job training in tree care and the use of equipment and tools.

Specialized training programs in arboriculture, forestry and natural resource management are available at community and 4-year colleges, technical institutes and vocational schools. The curriculum for an Associate of Applied Science with a major in forest technology or arboriculture and landscape management will give you an opportunity to study dendrology (tree identification), the types of diseases and insects that affect trees and urban forestry (the care of individual trees). More advanced study in the management of individual and groups of trees in community and municipal settings can be found at schools that offer a Bachelor of Science degree program with a concentration in urban forestry. Many employers also require that a utility arborist also be certified by the ISA. Qualified utility arborists should:

  • Be knowledgeable about the equipment and techniques necessary for vegetation management
  • Know how to use geographical information systems (GIS)
  • Have the ability to supervise tree and vegetation clearing crews
  • Possess excellent communication, customer relations and public relations skills
  • Know how to use a personal computer and relevant software

Real Utility Arborist Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers typically look for candidates with experience and some sort of training, whether it's a bachelor's degree or certification. The following job descriptions from April 2012 will give you an idea of the specialized skills you will need to find a position as a utility arborist.

  • A company in California has an opportunity for an ISA-certified utility arborist with a 4-year degree in forestry, horticulture, natural resource management or a related major and two years of experience. This person will be responsible for overseeing all activities related to right-of-way vegetation management programs.
  • An energy company in Miami is advertising for a utility arborist with a bachelor of science degree in forestry, arboriculture or related green industry and three years of experience. ISA-certified candidates are preferred and responsibilities will include scheduling, coordinating and inspecting contractor line-clearing activities, conducting educational programs and supervising restoration activities.
  • A utility company in California has an opening for an ISA-certified utility arborist with one to two years of experience and an associate's degree in forestry or a related field. This person will be responsible for researching local policies, acquiring permits for gas line testing operations and providing tree protection prescriptions.

How to Maximize Your Skills

As two of the above job postings indicate, many employers will only hire utility arborists who have been certified by the ISA, and this credential will most likely help you to stand out and remain competitive in the field. The organization offers several certifications, including those for arborist, arborist utility specialist, municipal specialist and master arborist. You can prepare for the exams by reviewing the ISA handbooks and study guides for each designation. To remain certified, you must acquire a certain number of continuing education units during a three-year period or retake the exam.

Utility arborists can also find training and continuing education opportunities through the Tree Care Industry Association (www.tcia.org). In addition to its Tree Care Academy, the organization's Electrical Hazards Awareness Program (EHAP) and Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) workshop show professionals how to keep themselves and their employees safe in the field. The Tree Care industry Association also offers webinars, an annual educational expo and a yearly management conference.

Other Fields to Consider

Conservation Scientist

If working with land management and natural resources appeals to you, but you'd like a career that looks at a bigger picture, consider conservation science. Conservation scientists work with federal, state and local governments and landowners to oversee the responsible use of our country's natural resources. Some of their duties may include conducting soil surveys, developing plans to combat soil erosion and devising methods for protecting rangelands. Conservation scientists may also teach farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers how to rotate crops, terrace their land and choose the best livestock and plants for their ranges. In addition to working in laboratories and offices, conservation scientists may be required to perform some of their duties on-site in remote locations.

A bachelor's degree in agricultural science, environmental science, forestry or rangeland management is required to enter the field. According to the BLS, in May 2011, the median annual salary for a conservation scientist was $60,000.

Landscape Architect

Another career option that focuses on the interaction between built and natural environments is landscape architecture. Landscape architects work with building architects and engineers to map and design land areas for commercial and residential sites, airports, highways, parks and recreational sites. With the exception of visits to a job site, the majority of their work is performed indoors. Some of a landscape architect's responsibilities include drawing site plans, constructing models, analyzing environmental reports and preparing cost estimates. A Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture or a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture is the usual credential for entering the field. In May 2011, the median annual salary for a landscape architect was about $63,000, as reported by the BLS.

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