Simply put, an arborist is a tree surgeon. A doctor of trees, if you will. While hanging about in trees all day may sound like a simple (and ideal) job, there is much more to becoming an arborist than merely cutting the occasional branch. Arboriculture is a specialised, licensed trade, in which one must be able to correctly identify varieties of trees and bushes, and then recommend the relevant advice for maintaining each variety. Believe us, it’s more complicated than it sounds.
Most people will think of an arborist as the bloke who comes to remove the giant Eucalypt branch that’s hanging over their yard and threatening the house. But there are many other services that your local arborist can provide. These include, but are not limited to, tree care & maintenance, planting, site & hazard assessment, and tree & vegetation identification (for protection orders etc.) Still sound like your kind of career? Then, read on!
How to become an arborist
Unlike a tree lopper, an arborist can be required to have a certified qualification to operate legally. Be aware though, this requirement varies from state to state within Australia. Discerning consumers can easily check with a number of directories, such as the Arboriculture Australia’s Directory of Australian Consulting and Practicing Arborists to ensure that you are qualified. Not having a relevant certification may make becoming an arborist fairly difficult, as you’re less likely to be hired by clients and arboriculture firms alike! If you’re a novice with no prior experience and looking to get into this field, there are a couple of options for you:
Learn on the Job
If you are not required to have a license in your home state, you can seek to begin working as an arborist with an existing firm who are hiring workers. Here, you can learn from the experts who are already working in the trade and you get first-hand experience by getting your hands dirty. Be sure to seek out a reputable firm, and check that their managers are qualified in the industry. If you want to give yourself the best chance of learning this complex trade while on the job, the smart choice is to do so with a professional and experienced team of experts. While you are learning, you can begin studying in horticulture or arboriculture through any number of certified training organisations. More about those below!
Complete a qualification
To be considered a qualified arborist, you will need to complete at least a AQF Level 3 (Certificate III) in either horticulture or arboriculture. To find out more about the requirements for these courses, you can visit training.gov.au.
Both the horticulture and arboriculture courses will train you in the following elements, as well as a number of electives of your choice:
- Tree maintenance and pruning
- Safe tree felling
- Undertaking complex tree climbing
- Installing cabling and bracing
- Preparing and applying chemicals
- Working safely at heights
- Working safely around power sources etc
- Traffic management
- Basic lifesaving
- Operation of skid steer, and boom-type elevating platforms
Furthermore, while undergoing your qualification, you will earn your license to operate a boom-type elevation platform, which will help to set you up for success by making you more employable. Electives are many and varied, and include courses from installing irrigation systems, to implementing bio-security measures. You’ll be able to choose electives that suit your interests and help prepare you for the specific kind of arborist work you’re hoping to get involved in.
Find a training organisation
Ensure that you train with a registered training organisation (RTO) who are certified to provide you with your qualification. There are quite a few dodgy under-the-radar training organisations out there these days, so be careful to check here to make sure you’re on the right track.
Some of the major trainers in this field are:
- TAFE Queensland
- TAFE NSW
- Melbourne Polytechnic (VIC)
- Horticultural Training Pty Ltd (QLD)
- ArborTrim Australia (VIC)
Register with an industry body
In order to be recognised as a qualified arborist, it is a good idea to register with the relevant industry associations. As mentioned above, it is now quite easy for potential clients to search for you or your company, to ensure that they’re hiring a professional. The fees for memberships vary between organisations, but it is definitely something to consider. Some of the associations you may like to take a look at are:
- Queensland Arboricultural Association Inc.
- Arboriculture Australia
- ISA (International Society of Arboriculture)
If you’re working for an established arborist firm, you may find that much of your gear is provided for you; however you might be required to bring along your own safety equipment. On the other hand, you may be wanting to head out and make a go of it on your own! Here is a list of the equipment you are most likely to need:
- Lightweight and durable harness with gear loops & leg loops and gives comfortable back support.
- Safety equipment including gloves, safety glasses, helmet, hearing protection and chainsaw protection chaps
- Ropes, hitches and a rope wrench
- Tree and branch-taming cables
- Cherry picker or elevation platform (if you expect to be working for yourself)
Become a consultant
So, once you’ve got your qualification sorted, there’s only one thing left to do – and that’s to get a job as an arborist! You can troll through the various online job sites, or even peruse the Arboriculture Australia job ads until you find your dream job. You may now spend many years happily cutting branches, treating shrubs, maintaining trees and avoiding the occasional biohazard. But where to from there? If you’re looking to take your career one step further, you can put your expertise to good use and become a consultant!
Consultancy is one of those titles which nobody really understands (think Chandler from the sitcom ‘Friends’). What consulting really entails is being an expert in your field, a providing your advice to clients as a professional service. Neat, huh? You’ll want to complete an AQF Level 5 to be considered properly qualified for this career leap. You can complete your course with any of the RTOs listed above!
Now that you’re armed with an understanding of what’s involved in becoming an arborist, we wish you luck! Happy tree climbing!