How to Become a Certified Arborist: Certification and Career Roadmap

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

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Do I Want to Be a Certified Arborist?

Arborists prune trees and shrubs for decoration and safety; they may also be skilled in diagnosing and treating diseased trees. Golf courses, parks, universities and utility companies employ arborists, as do landscape companies catering to homeowners. This work can be 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.

Job Requirements

Many entry-level arborist positions require a minimum of a high school diploma, although some employers prefer job candidates who hold a 2- or 4-year degree. Employers may also prefer arborists who hold certifications through the International Society of Arboriculture. The following table contains the core requirements for arborists:

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma required*; employers may prefer a degree**
Degree Field Arboriculture, forestry, horticulture or related field*
Licensure and Certification Licensure is often necessary for arborists who apply pesticides*; Certification isn't always required, but it's preferred by employers**
Experience None required for entry-level positions; some employers want candidates with at least three years of experience**
Key Skills Strong communication skills; knowledge of equipment and safety procedures**
Technical Skills Use of chippers, chainsaws and stump grinders*
Additional Requirements Current driver's license**

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

Step 1: Earn a Degree

While it's not always required, some employers prefer arborists that have a degree. Associate's 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 cover similar topics, such as botany, soil science and forest ecology. A minor in arboriculture may be available as part of a horticulture or forestry bachelor's program.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Some postsecondary programs offer internships that allow students to gain hands-on experience. Internships give students the chance to hone the skills they've learned 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. They may be required to interact with clients, identify trees and clear debris by pruning trees and shrubs. Entry-level arborists can also learn how to use tree maintenance tools. Examples of entry-level positions include those of commercial, municipal and utility groundworkers.

Success Tip:

  • Build leadership skills. Employers may be looking for someone who can manage a crew. Build leadership skills by learning to communicate effectively with peers, management and clients, expressing a 'can-do' attitude.

Step 3: Become 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, those who hold an associate's degree only need two years of experience; one year of experience is required for applicants who have a bachelor's degree. Additional areas of certification are available for utility specialists, municipal specialists, tree worker-climber specialists and tree worker aerial-lift specialists. The ISA offers a Master Arborist designation as well.

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.
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