Utility Arborist: Education Requirements and Job Description

Sep 26, 2019

A common educational path for aspiring utility arborists often involves an associate's degree in arboriculture, which is a two-year program focused on a variety of topics related to trees, such as pests, pruning, and pathology. Certification is also available, and includes the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborist and the ISA Certified Arborist Utility Specialist credential.

Essential Information

A utility arborist specializes in the maintenance and removal of trees and other vegetation to ensure the proper functioning of electric power lines and equipment without interference. Education pathways include an associate or a bachelor's degree option, and the choice can affect how much work experience is required in order to earn professional certification.

Required Education Associate degree
Other Requirements Certification available
Projected Growth (2018-2028)* 10% (tree trimmers, all fields)
Median Annual Salary (2018)* $38,190 (tree trimmers, all fields)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements

Students wishing to pursue a career as a utility arborist may earn an associate degree in arboriculture. This 2-year program includes the study of woody plants and trees, common pathologies and pests affecting trees and proper pruning techniques. Coursework includes principles of commercial arboriculture and hands-on skills like using rigging, rope and chain saws to safely trim branches or remove trees. Students may also participate in an internship where these skills may be practiced.

Aspiring utility arborists may prefer to earn a bachelor's degree in forestry or a closely related field; majoring in urban forestry is one option that can lead to employment as a utility arborist. The program typically offers coursework in arboriculture, soils study, pests and pest management, ecology, relevant public policy and law, urban tree management and geospatial analysis. Lab work may be required for some classes.

Certification Requirements

While either an associate's or bachelor's degree can lead to a career as a utility arborist, earning the most basic International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborist credential requires at least three years' relevant work experience; however, candidates with an associate's degree in arboriculture or a bachelor's degree in arboriculture or a similar discipline may have a shorter work experience requirement.

Earning the ISA Certified Arborist credential is a requirement for qualifying for the voluntary ISA Certified Arborist Utility Specialist exam, which tests candidates on topics like pruning, tree and vegetation management, electricity and consumer relations. Those seeking to sit for the exam must also meet minimum experience requirements performing vegetation management for a utility company or related professional responsibilities. Certification expires after three years and recertification requires completion of a minimum number of continuing education units.

Job Description

The duties of utility arborists are physically very demanding. They may be required to control aerial lift machines and rig, climb and work in trees, even in extreme weather. Operating potentially hazardous equipment such as chain saws and axes is also part of the job. Utility arborists may also need to combine these physical skills with analytical concepts such as the basics of electrical conduction and the principles of tree pruning. Utility arborists may be required to apply their skills to basic tree maintenance operations, electrical line extractions and basic inspections.

In addition to working for private and public electrical companies, utility arborists may also be employed as consultants by such clients as homeowners, insurance firms, architects and legal professionals, advising on correct methods of tree maintenance, tree diagnoses and other forestry-related issues.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the occupation of grounds maintenance workers includes tree trimmers and pruners, or arborists. In 2018, the average mean wage for such professionals working in the electric power generation, transmission and distribution industry was $46,420, reports the BLS. In addition, the BLS predicted an employment growth which is faster than average for tree trimmers and pruners from 2018-2028.

Utility arborists must be physically fit, as this is a demanding job in terms of physical exertion and dexterity. They have to operate heavy and dangerous equipment, like axes and chainsaws, and climb trees in all kinds of weather. These professionals properly prune trees and also perform inspections and basic maintenance to trees, particularly around electrical lines.

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