This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Arborists look after and maintain trees, including trees in parks, in people's backyards, and trees around power lines.
Trainee arborists with up to five years' experience usually earn
$16-$18 per hour
Arborists with more than five years' experience usually earn
$18-$30 per hour
Current job prospects
Pay for arborists varies depending on their experience, skills and qualifications.
- Trainee arborists usually start on or near the minimum wage. This can rise to $18 an hour as they gain experience.
- Arborists with more than five years' experience can earn between $18 and $24 an hour, depending on their skill level and qualifications.
- Highly skilled arborists can earn up to $30 an hour or more, and may get the use of a work vehicle.
Self-employed arborists may earn more than this, depending on the success of their business.
- PAYE.net.nz website – use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment Zealand New website - information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Arborists may do some or all of the following:
- identify, inspect, maintain, prune, plant and transplant trees
- identify and deal with tree hazards, for example clearing damaged branches or fallen trees after storm damage
- plan and carry out pest and disease management – including spraying
- consult with the public and/or clients regarding tree maintenance and/or removal.
Skills and knowledge
Arborists need to have:
- knowledge of horticulture including plant and soil biology, tree species identification, and pest and disease control
- skill in planting, pruning and landscaping
- understanding of arboricultural practices such as tree climbing and tree transplanting
- knowledge of safe work practices and first aid.
- often work irregular hours. They are often on call and may have to work nights and weekends
- work outside, on private properties, roadsides, parks and farms
- may work in dangerous conditions in bad weather.
What's the job really like?
Raul Lambert - Arborist
"We do scary things every day," says arborist Raul Lambert. "The scariest are damaged trees – when you are really high up in them, and they could break or fall. I have dropped the top of a tree onto my rope and it sent me flying into the tree trunk."
Keeping safe in a tree
"It's all about knowing your equipment, and what you're doing. For instance, you are meant to use two hands on your chainsaw, but you can get overconfident, and start using one hand.
"In England, not far from where I was working, a boy cut his jugular with a chainsaw when it bounced back, and he died. If I see any of the young ones using a chainsaw with one hand, I tell them, 'Stop that – two hands!' "
Climbing trees a young person's game
Although Raul is only 31, he is aware that he has a limited time for climbing. "Maybe I'll have five more years' climbing and then I'll probably seize up. It's a young people's game."
His next plan is to move into tree management. "I'd rather concentrate on tree management, instead of taking them down, maybe just assessing them and getting someone else to take them down."
Jack finds out what it takes to be an aborist - 8.16 mins. (Video courtesy of Just the Job)
Clinton: The CEO of Treescape, Ed Chignell, will point Jack in the right direction.
Ed: Gidday Jack, good to meet you! Come on through.
Jack: So what does Treescape do?
Ed: Treescape is an arboriculture company. We look after trees for people – we have residential clients, for commercial clients, for local councils. We look after all the parks and street trees for some of the councils around New Zealand and we do a lot of land clearing work for developers when they’re putting in new properties. We also have a restoration division where we’re doing replantings of native species back into areas that need to be restored.
Jack: When did you start this company?
Ed: Oh we started about 31 years ago when my best and friend and I just left secondary school. We started doing bits and pieces. We were able to buy our first vehicle. We bought a busted up old Holden ute. Prior to that we'd be using my old Volkswagen which I'd bought for $400, and you'd put your leg over the gear stick in top gear just to hold it in otherwise it would pop out. Today between New Zealand and Australia we've got 400 staff and we're right through New Zealand and through Queensland.
Clinton: Arboriculture can be dangerous work, so before Jack can even look at a tree, he does a two-day health and safety course with arboriculture guru Martin Herbert.
Martin: What sort of hazards do you think you’ve got using a chainsaw?
Clinton: After Jack has completed the theory it's time for some training in the field. There are over 400 skilled people working for Treescape in a variety of exciting and challenging careers across the country.
Clinton: It's interesting because the nature of the work means you’re not on a job for more than two or three days before you move on to the next, and today Jack will get some one-on-one training with arborist Lawrence Schicker.
Lawrence: OK Jack, we’ve got to come into this park and look for storm damage. We’ve had quite a bit of nasty weather lately.
Lawrence: Being an arborist, you’re going to need to have a good knowledge of trees.
Lawrence: Here we’ve got a lophostemon confertus, which is an Australian Box...
Lawrence: …a eucalyptus…
Lawrence: …a Moreton Bay Fig…
Lawrence: …and a poplar, which is from Europe. OK? It might be a bit daunting at first, but everything’s got a botanical name – it's sort of like Ford Falcon.
Lawrence: OK? So don’t freak out on that, it’s all good!
Jack: Why do you need to know the names of the species?
Lawrence: Different trees have different pruning requirements. We have to learn how to do proper pruning cuts that enhance the trees’ defense mechanisms, and not work against the tree. On a correct pruning cut you'll see what we call a callousing, it should go right around the pruning cut here, not quite right here, but pretty close. If you look up here, Jack, this is what a correct pruning cut should like. It's fully calloused over, so we've hit the money on that cut.
Lawrence: What we have here Jack is a massive big pruning cut. It's quite an old tree. There's no way it can compartmentalise, it just hasn't got the energy.
Jack: It's too big.
Lawrence: That's it. The general rule is we want to prune small branches, and more often, rather than just the one big hit.
Clinton: A bad pruning cut like this can ultimately kill the tree.
Lawrence: And as you can hear, she's hollow in there, so that tree is pretty well doomed. It's on its last legs.
Jack: It's going to die.
Lawrence: That's it. Causing a hazard so it will have to come out in the near future.
Lawrence: OK, I’ve just noticed a torn limb over there – I think the tree is a swamp cypress, that’s from North America.
Lawrence: Can you see that limb? That poses a hazard to the public if that comes down.
Jack: Yep. It’s just hanging there.
Lawrence: That’s the one. We might have to look at removing that.
Lawrence: The first thing you’ve got is your climbing harness, you’ve got an array of carabiners. On here we’ve got a climbing hitch – we’ll have to teach you a few knots before you get up there.
Lawrence: We have your climbing line, or your lifeline…
Lawrence: …then we’ll be using the top-handle chainsaw.
Lawrence: OK, now we’ve got to try and get you up that tree. We’ve got to install our rope, so we have to make what we call our "monkey’s fist" – that allows us to throw the rope up from the ground.
Lawrence: Maybe an overhand throw, and just visualise it.
Lawrence: Shot brother! We in?
Lawrence: Well done!
Lawrence: We have to put our climbing hitch on to the rope, sit in your harness…
Clinton: This climbing hitch knot grips the rope it is wrapped around when under the weight of Jack's body, but it moves freely when his weight is released, allowing Jack to manoeuvre his way up the tree.
Lawrence: That’s good. Go for it brother, she’s all yours!
Lawrence: I hope you’re not afraid of heights mate!
Clinton: But, Jack won't be alone up the tree, Lawrence climbs up to give him some advice.
Lawrence: Now we have to remove this sub-branch here, so we have to do an undercut for a start, to prevent any tearing, and then a top cut.
Lawrence: Nice shot!
Lawrence: We have to identify a branch collar. It’s good for the arm muscles mate. That’s it, you’ve got to make sure you’ve had your Weetbix for breakfast buddy!
Lawrence: Just don’t pull it, let the saw do the work.
Jack: So Lawrence, what do you enjoy about your job?
Lawrence: It’s a good physical job. You don’t have to go to the gym when you’re an arborist – you’re getting all your training onsite. There’s really good camaraderie – it’s mates looking after mates – to make sure we’re working all safe and you feel proud in what you’ve achieved each day.
Clinton: To remove the larger hazardous branch Jack will need something a little more powerful than a pruning saw.
Lawrence: Just reach out a little bit and do an undercut…a little bit further out would be good…awesome…
Lawrence: A little bit more mate!
Lawrence: That’s fine. Do your top-cut just inside that cut that you’ve done…just back this side, Jack, of it.
Lawrence: There you go! Well done.
Lawrence: How was that?
Jack: All good!
Lawrence: A little bit freaky?
Lawrence: Well done brother! Well done!
Clinton: To remove the hazardous branch, Jack needs to cut the limb into smaller, more manageable sections.
Lawrence: All clear below.
Clinton: Things are going well but arborists always need to keep an eye on each others' safety.
Lawrence: Whoop, look at this. Your caribiner. It's quite a hazard. Your caribiner's just coming undone. Come forward a bit. Sweet. Your caribiner opened. It rubbed on that branch. I've never really seen that happen before but it is a potential hazard. I'll get you to remove that branch now, if you could, mate. Get rid of that hazard totally.
Lawrence: Good man. All clear below. Shot mate. Now we have to identify our branch collar.
Clinton: This final cut is the most important, if he doesn't do it right, a big wound like this could cause more damage to the tree in the future.
Lawrence: A hundred per cent! How do you feel about that mate?
Jack: That was cool!
Lawrence: And a good finished product!
Clinton: Back on the ground Lawrence discovers evidence of what caused the break. An old wound that weakened the branch.
Lawrence: There's a classic example of an old pocket of decay. It might have been an old tear or a wound from years ago. You can see how the tree has walled off that decay and continued to grow.
Jack: So what type of school subjects would be useful in arboriculture?
Lawrence: You need a basic grasp of the English language, you might be interested in a bit of biology, or some of the sciences.
Jack: When does the science part come into it?
Lawrence: Basically when you want to become a qualified arborist, you’ll learn more about tree health and tree biology. You’ll do block courses to get your certificate or diploma in arboriculture, you start looking at things in more depth.
Lawrence: And that’s the difference basically between just any old tree-cutter and a qualified arborist.
Clinton: Now Jack has finished pruning, they use the chipper to tidy up.
Lawrence: So how was that, mate?
Jack: It was really good. I really enjoyed the climbing, and it was just cool. It’s something I want to get into.
Clinton: To be an arborist you need to be physically fit, not be afraid of heights and enjoy working outside. A Level 4 arboriculture qualification is the minimum required to be a recognised arborist. There are two main ways to get this qualification: Treescape will pay for all your training while working, which usually takes about three years to complete. Or studying one year full time at Otago Polytechnic or Waikato Institute of Technology.
An arboricultural qualification is needed to work as an arborist, although some larger firms may take you on as a trainee and allow you to become qualified while you are working.
Most trainees start with a National Certificate in Horticulture – Arboriculture (Level 3) before completing Level 4, and Level 4 advanced national certificates. The Level 4 advanced national certificate is the minimum qualification preferred by employers.
Completing courses in the safe and effective use of chainsaws will help your employment chances.
- Primary Industry Training Organisation website - information about aboriculture training and qualifications
- For a list of arboriculture courses check out our courses database
At least three years of secondary education is recommended. Useful subjects include horticulture, biology, English and maths.
Year 11-13 students may be able to work towards national certificates in horticulture through the New Zealand Trade Academy, while still working toward NCEA. This may include off-site learning and some on-the-job training.
- Competenz website - information about the NZ Trade Academy for forestry
- National Trade Academy website - information about a horticulture course that includes learning about arboriculture
Arborists need to be:
- alert and observant, with an eye for detail
- good at planning and organising.
We are not just looking for people who can climb and prune trees. We are looking for people who can manage contracts, get into training and health and safety, and a lot of different facets.
Richard Wanhill - New Zealand Arboriculture Association
Useful experience for arborists includes:
- any horticulture or gardening experience, such as plant maintenance or pruning
- climbing and experience using ropes
- experience working at heights – such as window-cleaning work.
Arborists need to have excellent fitness and be comfortable working at heights.
They should also have good balance, hand-eye co-ordination, hearing and eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
Find out more about training
- NZ Arboricultural Association
- (03) 312 2461 - www.nzarbor.org.nz
- Primary Industry Training Organisation
- 0800 208020 - www.primaryito.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Demand for arborists has increased due to insufficient numbers of trainees coming through to fill vacancies.
As a result, arborist appears on Immigration New Zealand's immediate skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled arborists from overseas to work in New Zealand.
Better chances if you are safety conscious
You have more chance of being taken on by an employer if you have high energy levels, and are health and safety-conscious. In this role, where there are many potential hazards, being able to use your initiative can be more important than tree identification.
Good opportunities for progress
Arborists can gain a range of skills on the job and be involved in anything from public arboriculture projects, such as replanting parks and other revegetation projects for councils, to private work.
Types of employers varied
Arborists may work for:
- city and district councils
- specialist arborist firms
- larger private firms including those that do work for city and district councils
- power companies.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Immediate Skill Shortage List', accessed January 2015, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupational Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2013.
- Palmer, J, managing director, Franklin Trees and executive member, New Zealand Arboricultural Association, Careers New Zealand interview, May 2015.
- Statistics New Zealand, ‘Census of Population and Dwellings’, 2014 (www.stats.govt.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Arborists may progress to work in supervisory or managerial roles, or set up their own businesses and become self-employed. They may also be involved in consultancy work as project managers writing reports, for example, for councils about tree requirements for new or redeveloped public spaces.
Last updated 26 May 2017