How Can I Begin a Career in Arboriculture? What Qualifications Does a Tree Surgeon Need?

A front view of lumberjack with chainsaw cutting a tree in town.

Are you someone who has an enduring passion for nature and still enjoys the thrill of climbing trees? Do you relish staying in excellent shape and crave challenging experiences? If these qualities resonate with you, a profession in arboriculture could be the perfect fit. However, you might be wondering how to embark on the journey to become a certified tree surgeon and establish a successful career in the tree pruning industry. Where should you even begin?

In the following article, Trilogy Media will provide you with comprehensive guidance on how to initiate your journey, highlight the key attributes that distinguish exceptional arborists, and offer insights into the potential salary you can anticipate in this field.

Beginning a Career in Arboriculture: Where to Start

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you kickstart your journey in arboriculture:

1. Job Description and Responsibilities

Before you start pursuing on a career in arboriculture, it’s important to understand the role and responsibilities of an arborist. Here’s an overview:

Arborists, also known as tree doctors, tree surgeons, or tree loppers, are professionals who care for trees, plants, and shrubs. They inspect these plants for signs of health issues, structural problems, and potential diseases.

Two male trainee tree surgeons climbing up tree trunk

Your responsibilities will include assessing and identifying potential decay, often discernible through changes in the colour and texture of the tree. If damage or decay is detected, you will need to prescribe the appropriate solution, which could involve pruning or the complete removal of the tree.

In general, there are three primary types of arborists:

  • The Aesthetic Arborist: Specializes in garden maintenance and tree pruning for aesthetic purposes.
  • The Practical Arborist: Focuses on practical tasks such as trimming trees near power lines and utilities to ensure safety.
  • The Savior Arborist: Concentrates on the overall health and well-being of trees, diagnosing diseases and decay, and taking necessary actions to enhance tree health and longevity.

Arborists trim and prune trees and shrubs, removing dead or dying branches. They may also employ specific pruning techniques to maintain the proper structure of young trees and promote robust future growth.

Arborist man with harness cutting a tree, climbing. Copy space.

At times, arborists may be required to remove and replace trees with more suitable species, especially if a tree is high-maintenance, poses a threat to other trees, or poses a risk to property.

Arborists often engage in tree climbing and must be proficient in using specialized gear, including gloves, helmets, safety ropes, and goggles. They may also operate chainsaws at heights, as well as clippers, shears, and other necessary tools.

For taller or hard-to-reach trees, elevated work platforms may be necessary. Consequently, arborists undergo extensive health and safety training, especially when operating hazardous machinery at elevated heights.

2. Educational and Training Prerequisites

What’s needed to kickstart your career? In Australia, to begin a journey as an arborist, you typically need to complete a traineeship in Horticulture (Arboriculture).

Entry requirements can vary, but in most instances, a high school education is sufficient.

If you aspire to work in a research role and deepen your knowledge of various tree species and diseases, a bachelor’s or graduate degree will be necessary. However, you can pursue this higher education later while actively working as a certified tree surgeon.

In Australia, the AQF (Australian Qualifications Framework) offers a wide range of professional qualifications at various levels for arboriculture careers.

Additionally, there’s the option to explore on-the-job training, although this varies depending on the employer’s policies and preferences.

3. Licensing

The Australian Arborist Industry License, introduced by the non-profit organisation Arboriculture Australia, was established to acknowledge certified arborist professionals. It provides employers with a streamlined means to promptly verify whether an individual is qualified to conduct tree-related tasks in a safe and responsible manner.

4. Compensation

Let’s go a little bit deeper into a crucial aspect: What kind of income can you anticipate as a tree surgeon? It’s important to note that the following figures represent averages and can fluctuate based on your location in Australia, your employer, and your level of experience.

Here are the annual earning estimates:

  • Entry Level: $44,038
  • Average: $58,640
  • Senior: $70,927

What Qualities Define Exceptional Tree Surgeons

So, what attributes are essential for a successful career in arboriculture? Don’t be concerned if you don’t possess all these qualities right away! Many of these skills and traits can be developed and honed over time. However, if, for instance, you have a fear of heights, a career as a tree surgeon might not be the best fit.

Here are the key qualities and characteristics:

  1. An intrinsic interest in trees, shrubs, nature, and environmental conservation.
  2. A willingness to work outdoors, at elevated heights, and in adverse weather conditions.
  3. Adequate physical fitness and stamina.
  4. Proficiency in safely and responsibly using various tools.
  5. Excellent communication skills and the ability to collaborate effectively with others.
  6. A strong sense of responsibility and the capability to adhere to health and safety protocols.
  7. An openness to staying current with industry standards related to health and safety, regulations, and quality control, among others.
Male tree surgeon sawing tree trunk using chainsaw in forest

Remember, much of the knowledge and skills required can be acquired through learning and training. However, to thrive in this profession, you should have a genuine appreciation for the outdoors, a passion for wildlife, and a readiness to tackle challenges.

One of the remarkable aspects of being an arborist is that each new project presents unique challenges. While it may become repetitive at times, many of the tasks can be quite therapeutic, especially when they become second nature through practice.


As you contemplate a career in arboriculture, remember that this profession offers not only a chance to make a positive impact on the environment but also a continual learning experience with each unique project.

Whether you’re drawn to the aesthetic aspects of tree care or the more practical aspects of ensuring safety, a career as a tree surgeon can be deeply satisfying for those who are passionate about trees and the great outdoors.

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