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How to Become a Certified Arborist: Certification and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a certified arborist. Learn about education and training requirements and the experience you'll need to advance your career in tree care.

Arborists

Arborists prune trees and shrubs for decoration and safety. In addition, they are skilled in diagnosing and treating diseased trees. Organizations that employ arborists include golf courses, parks, universities, and utility companies, as do landscape companies catering to homeowners. The work of an arborist is physically demanding and includes the use of potentially dangerous machinery. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), grounds maintenance workers, including arborists, have a higher rate of illnesses and injuries than the average occupation.

Career Information

Degree Level High school diploma required; employers may prefer a certificate or degree
Degree Field Arboriculture, forestry, horticulture or related field
Licensure and Certification Licensure necessary for arborists who apply pesticides
Experience None for entry-level positions; some employers want at least three years of experience
Key Skills Knowledge of chippers, chainsaws, stump grinders, and safety procedures
Median Salary (2016)* $44,300 per year

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Various job listings (September 2012), *Payscale.com

Step 1: Earn a Degree

While it's not always required, some employers prefer arborists have a degree. Associates programs in arboriculture include courses in soil fertility, plant pathology, and community forestry. Students may also receive instruction in turfgrass management. Bachelor's programs in forestry or urban forestry include courses in botany, forest ecology, and soil science. A minor in arboriculture may be available as part of a four year forestry or horticulture program.

Success Tip:

Complete an internship. Some postsecondary programs offer internships that allow students to gain hands-on experience in arboriculture. Internships give students the chance to hone their skills and prepare for full-time work.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Arborists can receive on-the-job training from tree care companies, landscaping companies, nurseries, municipalities, and utilities. Once employed, they'll have to interact with clients, identifying trees and clear debris by pruning trees and shrubs. Entry-level arborists learn how to use tree maintenance tools. Commercial, municipal, and utility ground workers also start in entry-level positions.

Success Tip:

Build leadership skills. Employers are looking for arborists who can manage a crew. Build your leadership ability by communicating effectively with peers, management, and clients.

Step 3: Get Certified

In some cases, employers prefer arborists that are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). To qualify for the ISA's Certified Arborist credentialing exam, candidates need at least three years of experience. However, candidates who hold an associate's degree need two years of experience. Applicants who have a bachelor's degree only need one year of experience. Additional certifications are available for tree worker aerial-lift, tree worker climber, municipal and utility specialists. The ISA also offers a Master Arborist designation.

Success Tip:

Earn continuing education units. The Certified Arborist credential must be renewed every three years. To qualify for re-certification, individuals must obtain 30 continuing education units and pay a fee.

Let's quickly go over what we've just discussed. While many arborists can qualify for entry-level positions with a high school diploma, an associate's or bachelor's degree in arboriculture, forestry, or horticulture and a professional certification from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) may help you advance in a field where you may earn a median annual salary of $44,300.

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