How to Become a Certified Arborist: Steps to a Rewarding Career
If you are a tree surgeon, or if you are looking for rewarding work outdoors, you might want to take the step up to becoming an arborist. But what is an arborist, and how can you get on to this career path?
An arborist is a tree surgeon who is trained in the conservation and management of trees, from planting to removal. This includes the identification of disease and health conditions of the tree they are working with. To become a certified arborist, you need one or more of the following:
- Start an apprenticeship
- Gain Certificates of competence from a recognised training body
- Gain relevant experience
- Acquire a Nationally/ Internationally recognised certificate.
Depending on your country of residence and career goals, this may be:
- The Arboricultural Association membership (UK and international recognition)
- International Society of Arboriculture Certificate (ISA) (US and international recognition)
- European Tree Worker Certification (European Union and international recognition)
- Other nationally recognised qualifications, like the Australian AHC30820 Certificate III (Australian and international recognition).
Join us here at Arbjobs as we break down the differences between a trained arborist and other lines of work in arboriculture, including ways in which you can become certified as an arborist.
What is an Arborist?
An ‘arborist’ is a tree surgeon with additional training in the health, management and conservation of trees. A tree surgeon could be compared to an actual surgeon, whose sole responsibility is performing surgical procedures on a person based on best medical practice.
An arborist’s responsibility, on the other hand, is to advise tree surgeons on the best practices for helping trees thrive. This isn’t to say that an arborist can’t or won’t perform these procedures themselves, but a tree surgery firm may be made up of both tree surgeons and arborists and different levels of training and experience. A tree surgeon will often work on the maintenance operations of tree care under the guidance of the senior arborist. The arborist will guide the team and customer or client, on:
- Planting trees
- Review any pests and diseases
- Guide landscapers
- Developing landscaping plans
- Assessing the PH or condition of the soil
- Plan, record and monitor the work site activities
- Building a list of trees and their conditions in a given area
As you can see, there are differences between being an arborist and a tree surgeon. These differences come down to training and education.
Why not review some companies hiring arborist positions with Arbjobs, to see what the real-time requirements are in the current jobs market?
How to Become an Arborist
There are many paths towards a qualification in arboriculture.
- Start an apprenticeship,
- Gain relevant education and competency, or
- Gain relevant experience
However, to become a certified arborist, you’ll need to acquire a membership or qualification from your country’s certification provider such as The Arboricultural Association, the International Society of Arboriculture Certificate (ISA) or the European Tree Workers certification.
This list isn’t exhaustive and, to become a qualified arborist, you might not need all 3. However, getting qualified with a recognised certification provider is key in demonstrating that a leading authority has recognised your dedication, skill set and ability.
Let’s review each to see how they can contribute to becoming an arborist.
Get an Apprenticeship
If you are just starting out in the field of arboriculture, one option available to you will be attaining an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships can be completed in tandem with formal education, providing you with both experience and entry-level qualifications. You can undertake apprenticeships in forestry or arboriculture directly. Some education in forestry and arboriculture may also be covered under horticultural courses.
In the United Kingdom, most apprenticeships for arboriculture consist of a 24-month long course and offer a Level 2 Qualification upon completion. This is a great first step towards becoming a qualified arborist, but you will need further education or relevant work experience to gain a recognised qualification. More on this below.
For more information on apprenticeships in the field of arboriculture, how much they pay and the doors they will open for you, why not check out our guide to tree surgeon apprenticeships and starting a career in arboriculture?
Gain Relevant Experience
Gaining relevant experience in the field of arboriculture will also greatly benefit you in becoming an arborist.
Whilst there is no direct progression from becoming a tree surgeon to becoming an arborist, it would greatly benefit your chances of becoming an arborist if you have worked as a tree surgeon or groundskeeper previously.
Gaining experience doesn’t even strictly need to be vocational. If you are interested in becoming an arborist, you can always gain experience from volunteer work. Here in the UK, many organisations offer volunteer positions which would provide you with the skills to become an arborist. These organisations are:
- European Arboricultural Council
- The Arboricultural Association
- The Tree Council
- The Woodland Trust
- The National Trust
Volunteering for any of the above organisations can benefit your application or training for becoming an arborist, as it will show that you are passionate about arboriculture, tree care and maintenance.
Gain the Required Education to Become a Qualified Arborist
Pursuing further education is a great step towards becoming an officially qualified arborist, whether you already have some tree care certifications, hands-on work experience in tree care, or both.
There are a variety of certifications that you can obtain, depending on your location and where you aim to work. Certificates can usually be applied for online or via postal order and will show others in the industry that your understanding of arboriculture and ethics aligns with a governing body on arboriculture.
In the UK
Formal education in the UK is available through higher education providers, such as colleges and universities.
Many employers may require you to have some level of secondary education. This may take the form of at least 2 GCSEs in England, Wales and Scotland, or your country's equivalent.
In the UK, it is beneficial to have the following qualifications for becoming an arborist:
- Level 2 Certificate in Felling and Processing Trees
- Level 2 Certificate in Arboriculture
- Level 2 Certificate in Felling and Processing Trees
- Level 2 Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture
These certificates will allow you to move on to the higher-level courses required for the official Arboricultural Association Technician (level 3 and above) and Fellow and Professional Member (level 5 and above) recognition.
In the USA
In the USA, the ISA is the most recognised certificate that you can hold in arboriculture. The International Society of Arboriculture Certificate (ISA) is perhaps the best-recognised arboricultural certificate in the world.
The areas that are covered in the US, ISA examination are:
- Tree Biology
- Tree Identification and Selection
- Soil Management
- Installation and Establishment
- Diagnosis and Treatment
- Trees and Construction
- Tree Risk
- Safe Work Practices
- Urban Forestry
To be eligible for ISA certification, a candidate must have at least three years of full-time experience in arboriculture or a combination of education and practical arboricultural experience. One year of full-time experience is equivalent to approximately 1,795 hours of work. For more on this, read our blog on how to become a certified arborist in the US.
In the EU
For this certification, potential candidates would need to provide proof of first aid training, competency using a chainsaw and evidence of at least one year working in tree care. Read our blog on European Arborist Qualifications for more information about obtaining this certificate and where it is recognised.
There are many certification centres around the EU, all of which offer the same examination and regulations. Passing the examination will allow you to be a ‘Certified European Tree Worker’, and you will be issued a diploma and an ID card.
The Australian AHC30820 Certificate III is recognised strongly within the arborist community. This qualification has no entry requirements, but it does test its candidates over a variety of skills related to arboriculture.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Certified Arborist?
Between 1 and 3 years. Since there is no defined route to becoming a certified arborist outside of training combined with work experience, it could take around 4-5 years on average. This is a combination of the 3 years (or 5,400 hours) of work experience combined with the 6-12 months it would take to complete the ISA, AA, ETW or AHC assessments.
The Skills Required to Become a Qualified Arborist
To become a qualified arborist, you must have or be working towards a defined set of skills. An arborist must be tough and resilient as they work with heavy machinery outdoors in many different weather conditions. However, arborists must be caring and considerate of nature, botany and sometimes, difficult clients.
Tree surgeons also need to be strong, athletic and able to climb. Tree surgery and Arboriculture is a young person’s game. Whilst we have seen climbers and technicians climb until they are into their late 40s and early 50s; being an arborist is physically demanding.
Most importantly, arborists must be trustworthy and reliable. Taking care of large, natural objects like trees and the tools needed to prune or remove trees is dangerous. An arborist who handles chainsaws, harnesses and ropes must be safe and trustworthy in their work and reliable in character.
Arborist Career Progression Options
Arboriculture is a career that requires continuous learning. As with any field of science, arboriculture constantly evolves as new research and practices are developed at all levels. Regardless of your current level of expertise, there are good opportunities to specialise and reach your full potential in arboriculture, and achieve a higher level of knowledge and skill.
Tree Surveyance - Arborists can further specialise in becoming tree surveyors. Read more about the skills and experience needed to become a tree surveyor on our blog.
Arboricultural Consultancy - Highly qualified arborists can also progress into the role of Arboricultural Consultants, and even specialise as Arboricultural Contracts Managers, Researchers, Local Authority Tree Officers, and Environmental Advisors.
Arborist Jobs with Arbjobs.com
Arbjobs is one of the best resources out there for anyone wanting to train to become an arborist or to search for arborist positions. Our Jobs Board is full of firms looking for qualified candidates globally. If you are looking for a rewarding career as an arborist, sign up for Arbjobs Job Alerts to get notified when roles suitable for you are posted.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Arborist
Are Arborists in Demand?
Yes, but you may need to be willing to relocate. Arboriculture is a wonderful career, but the need to work physically can be quite demanding. This can lead to turnover being quite high as arborists get older and find less physically demanding work in the field. You may have to relocate to find a position that best suits your career path.
Do Arborists Need A Licence?
To be considered ‘qualified’, yes, you will need a recognised licence or certificate. These are often produced by a regulatory or governing body, where examinations of the candidates are intended to keep the integrity of the certificate or licence sound. It takes roughly 3 years minimum experience to get ISA certified, for example.
Is Being an Arborist a Dangerous Job?
Yes, any job that involves climbing or removing trees is inherently dangerous. In fact, the Health and Safety Executive has noted 1400 cases of serious injury to arborists in the past 10 years, with 24 incidents resulting in death. Globally, this amount is significantly higher.
How Much Do Arborists Get Paid?
Arborist salaries have lots of growth potential, alongside qualifications and experience. Experienced team leader level arborists are currently being offered a combined salary package of around £38 - £45,000.
In 2023, in the UK arboricultural apprentices under 18 may earn as little as £4.81 per hour. This will increase to £9.50 for over 23-year-old apprentice trainees.
Browse all available arborist roles to find out more about current salaries for your level of experience.