Get This Job: Arborist

Make tree climbing your career with a little on-the-job training.

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For an arborist, it’s all saws, ropes, and safety. Photo by: Hermann ErberHermann Erber

Good news for all childhood tree-climbing prodigies: Now’s a great time to go pro. As cities plant more trees in an effort to green up urban spaces, demand for workers to prune and care for them (and keep them from falling on people or property) is expected to swell.

Despite a median wage of $16 per hour ($33,000 annually), the top tier of arborists earn around $54,000 per year—and potentially much more for those who start their own tree-care business. And because most training occurs on the job, anyone with the desire and physical ability can become an arborist with no educational prereqs.

Downside: Climbing trees with chainsaws and lowering multiton limbs to the ground doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. On average, nearly six arborists die each month in the U.S., usually the victims of falling or being struck by errant branches or equipment.

While much of the pruning, climbing, and disease-treating takes place in city and suburb, certain rarefied assignments sound mind-blowingly cool. Mark Chisholm, a third-generation arborist with Apen Tree Expert Co. in Jackson, NJ, speaks of pruning a 260-foot-tall California redwood with a reverence that would make the Lorax proud. Because to be an arborist, you have to be more than a tree climber—you’ve got to be a bit of a tree hugger, too.

“Without trees, we’re not going to be able to survive,” Chisholm says. “Arborists make it possible for people to coexist with trees.”

Pay $33,000 Prerequisites Strength, agility Perks Birds’-eye views, power tools Problems Gravity, power tools Prospects 63,000 jobs by 2022 (+18.5%)