What qualifications should an arborist have?

Qualified specialist arborist.
Specialist Treetec arborist. Trained in OH&S skills to safely scale large trees.

What qualifications should an arborist have?

Article information based in Melbourne, Victoria.

Arboriculture and arborists are not regulated in the way electricians, plumbers or forklift operators are, there’s currently no legal requirement to hold a licence or certificate of competency. There is a requirement under Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) legislation to ensure all people in the workplace are given adequate training, supervision and instruction but there is almost no policing of these requirements. This is the reason there are so many under-trained tree lopping companies.

How do you become an arborist?

Normally a basic level of training is undertaken on the job and / or combined with specialist short courses such as chain saw use, tree climbing, aerial rescue, pruning, tree felling, woodchipper operation etc. (Treetec provide chainsaw training and some tailored training) To move into specialist fields, lead a crew and operate a business an arborist should undertake an absolute minimum of Certificate 3 in Horticulture (Arboriculture) this is the minimum level for an unsupervised arborist. When preparing tree reports or undertaking tree hazard assessments the minimum accepted level is Certificate 4. One can go on and do degree level studies within arboriculture.

Treetec recommends as a first step to do the basic short courses in Chain Saw (Operate and Maintain Chainsaws), Woodchipper operation, Tree Climbing / aerial rescue and pruning. If these units are done while getting in the field tree services experience the skills enable you to safely work within a tree crew and gradually gain the experience required to assess your suitability for the tree industry.

If you are suitable for the rigours of the tree industry, we STRONGLY advise that you undertake the full arboricultural training course at a recognised institution such as NMIT in Fairfield.

What is the best arborist training in Melbourne?

Treetec runs regular chainsaw courses for companies and individuals. An arborist should undertake a minimum of Certificate 3 or above in Horticulture (Arboriculture). NMIT in Fairfield currently runs a good program, a student generally studies 1 day per week and works the remainder which provides an opportunity to learn the necessary skills at the TAFE whilst getting the essential experience out in the field.

Be sure whoever does your training that all the units you require are incorporated, there is a new national training package now in place however it is being reviewed and will need significant changes due to a range of issues. this arborist training package has a new focus and there are lots of units such as ‘dogging’ and operation of skid steer machinery, some recent graduates have completed training where they think they are suited to arboriculture however they haven’t been trained to ‘fell’ large trees or undertake ‘pruning’. Pruning and Felling are core skills at the very heart of arboriculture. Unfortunately, it’s up to the student to demand that they receive the most practical units, not the units that suit the training company to deliver.

What job or career options are available to an arborist?

Most work for arborists is in tree removal, tree pruning or tree services fields. There are numerous smaller companies that service the domestic market, usually structured with the Principal and 2 or 3 workers.

The tree services field is broad, one can be engaged in domestic service work, utility clearance, consulting, ecology, planting, pruning, maintaining, tree transplanting, seed collection and a range of other fields that require canopy access.

Can you be an arborist in Melbourne without being a tree climber?

There are some non-climbing arborists. Usually they are engaged in ground based tree assessments, planting and tree establishment operations and company management roles.
It is also feasible to gain a broad range of experience and tree related skills working from an Elevated Work Platform (EWP).

How much does an arborist get paid in Victoria?

Current May 2013
The short answer to this is that Arborists and tree industry workers get whatever they can negotiate with the employer so long as it is equal to or above the wages and conditions set out in the National Minimum Wage Order. Many Australian industries operate within an industry ‘Award’, there is however no award for Arboriculture. The closest award is the Gardening and Landscape Award.

Some companies will establish an Enterprise Agreement, this is a set of pay rates and conditions negotiated with employees and then lodged with Fair Work Australia.
All workers in Australia are covered by the Fair Work Act 2009 and the National Minimum Wage Order therefore any Award or Enterprise Agreement is underpinned by these documents, you cannot get paid less than that set out in the Minimum Wage Order.

In Victoria there are ‘Industry Sector Minimum Wage Orders’ and the closest one that could relate to Arborists is the ‘Property and Business Services’ wage order.
However when you look a little more closely it turns out that the Gardening Award and the Business Services Order are all simply aligned with the minimum wage!
Therefore currently in Melbourne / Victoria the least an arborist or tree worker can legally be paid per hour is equal to the national minimum wage.

Actual rates of pay vary enormously and are generally well above the minimum wage, in 2021-22 there was a significant shortage of personnel and this quickly drove up pay rates, this was not unique to the tree industry, however within arboriculture the issue had major implications for many operators.

How dangerous is a career in arboriculture?

It is not clear exactly how dangerous it is to be an arborist due to the lack of reliable data related to injuries and fatalities however it would be difficult to argue that it is not one of, if not the most, dangerous occupations. There continues to be an ongoing series of incidents, injuries, near misses and fatalities reported within the tree industry, and a lot of incidents that are not reported. Unfortunately, the bulk of work for arborists involves working at height with a chainsaw around a structure (the tree) that is not tested or rated whilst hanging from a climbing rope about 13mm thick. This enormous level of risk is managed in various ways however it only takes a little mistake or moment of complacency from even the best arborist and the consequences can be fatal.

Surprisingly many arborists or tree operators are injured not whilst climbing but while working on the ground with chippers, chainsaws etc in an unforgiving environment. Only recently a grounds person was killed when he was struck in the neck by a rope that had been inadvertently fed into the wood chipper.

The other less visible risk is that tree climbing and related activities is very hard on the body, it usually takes some years however the damage to knees, elbows, backs and feet is significant and has forced many operators to change the structure of their business or move out of the tree industry completely.

Currently there is no licence required to be an arborist, Occupational Health and Safety laws require, electricians, winch operators, dogmen (rigging) and forklift drivers to have a licence but as yet, not arborists.

Tree arborists have slipped under the radar for many years most likely due to the relatively small number of people employed within the industry, the last 15 years has seen a significant growth in the number of tree loppers, arborists and arboricultural companies, this has increased the number of injuries and deaths and consequently the tree services industry is now coming under much closer scrutiny, particularly in Melbourne / Victoria from Worksafe and Safe Work Australia.

All workers are meant to be protected under Occupational Health and Safety Laws and this includes the requirement for appropriate training and OHS Systems and documentation. Treetec provides comprehensive OHS systems and provides risk management consulting within the industry.

How do I find a good arborist in Melbourne?

Of course, we would suggest Treetec and our consulting arborists for a range of tree services. However Melbourne is fortunate to have a strong arboricultural community with many good practitioners. Finding an arborist is done through the usual channels of web searches, business listings and referrals.

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