Arborist Apprenticeship


missionThe TCIA Arborist Apprenticeship Program provides you with the opportunity to earn a salary while also learning a skilled trade in the tree care industry. The program includes a combination of job-related classroom instruction and hands-on training at the job site. Successful completion of the program leads to a certificate of completion of apprenticeship, which is a nationally-recognized, portable credential from the United States Department of Labor.

The objective of the Arborist Apprenticeship Program is to train you to be a tree climber that can train others to climb. Apprenticeship is not to be confused with an internship – you will be an employee of the tree care company who hires and trains you.

It will take approximately 3 years for you to complete the apprenticeship. However, the time it takes to complete the apprenticeship can be shortened based on any relevant education or work experience, if applicable, as well as any overtime you work (there will definitely be overtime!).

Here is a full list of the competencies and associated hours of on-the-job learning (or “OJL”) that you can expect to cover over the course of your apprenticeship. Please note the following:

  1. You must be able to train an individual in all the work processes.
  2. OJL is an opportunity for you to train the apprentice using your company’s approach to each of the areas using technology that exists in your organization.
  3. Upon completion of the program, TCIA will review the apprentice’s time entry to ensure all hours were completed and approved by the journeyworker.

Work Process Description (Competencies)


Adhere to ANSI and employer safety standards for all work.


Identify common trees and shrubs in the employer’s region.


Perform rigging on the ground and aloft.


Access trees safely.


Operate a chain saw on the ground and aloft, and perform field maintenance.


Operate a chipper.


Prune trees and shrubs from the ground and aloft, according to ANSI A300.


Remove trees and shrubs.


Local Optional Work Processes

A. Operate vehicles with or without trailer.

B. Operate aerial lifts.

C. Operate stump grinder.

D. Participate in responses to storms and emergency situations.

E. Install tree support and lightning protection systems.

G. Perform plant health care activities.


Total Hours

The related instruction is 440 hours of classroom learning, completed in person or online depending on what is available in your state. This is roughly a minimum of 144 hours of related instructions per year of the apprenticeship.

Here is a full list of the classes and associated hours that your employee can expect to cover over the course of their apprenticeship:

Hours Year 1
36 Arborist Skills 1
36 Arborist Equipment Fundamentals
36 Introduction to Aerial Tree Work
36 Applied Aerial Work for Arborist Apprentices
Hours Year 2
36 Tree and Shrub Identification 1 for Arborist Apprentices
36 Arborist Skills 2
36 Rigging and Tree Removal Fundamentals for Arborist Apprentices
36 Tree Biology & Identification 2 for Arborist Apprentices
Hours Year 3
36 Arborist Skills 3
36 Advanced Rigging and Tree Felling with Field Skill Building for Arborist Apprentices
36 Plant Health Care Treatments & Shrub Identification 3 for Arborist Apprentices
36 Leadership in Tree Care Operations, Communication Skills, and a Capstone Project
8 Transition to Trainer: Your Role as a Journeyworker
440 Total Hours

Additional possible requirements: State Pesticide Applicator License, Safety, CPR, First Aid, AED, CDL, and other employer required training or certifications

Course Descriptions

Arborist Skills 1
Apprentices will examine aspects of being an arborist and the trade and occupations related to urban forestry. Course learning outcomes include an orientation to the trade, standards related to the tree care industry, safety and personal protective equipment, electrical hazard awareness, ground support for aerial operations, basic tree biology for first year apprentices and the basic pruning cuts used by the trade.

Arborist Equipment Fundamentals
Course learning outcomes include skill building with common equipment used by the trade. Chain saws, chippers, vehicle operations, plant health care and aerial lift operations will be learned. Equipment maintenance is examined. Safety and safe work practices are reinforced.

Introduction to Aerial Tree Work
Course competencies include pre-climb inspections, climbing equipment for safety, rope installations, ascending skills, re-positioning skills, maneuvering techniques and descending skills. Apprentices will build skills selecting knots for various situations and applications. Emergency response procedures for arborist apprentices will be explored, and aerial rescue basic concepts are introduced in this course.

Applied Aerial Work for Arborist Apprentices
Apprentices will develop skills involved in aerial work performed by arborists. Course competencies include safety work practices, operating chain saws in an aerial situation; performing pruning cuts at heights, rigging loads during aerial work, climbing in spurs and decision-making for aerial pruning cuts and tree care. Aerial rescue training for arborist apprentices is included in this course.

Tree and Shrub Identification 1 for Arborist Apprentices
Course examines tree and shrub identification using industry accepted standards. Course learning outcomes include anatomy and morphology, tree and shrub identification, and tools used by the trade to identify trees and shrubs. An introduction to insects and diseases will provide foundational knowledge for future courses in related instruction. The first tree & shrub identification course (1 of 3) will focus on deciduous and coniferous trees from the arborist apprenticeship must-know list.

Arborist Skills 2
Arborist skills for second year apprentices will examine the ANSI A-300 tree care standards and apply those standards to various tree care situations. Apprentices will learn how to assess different trees for pruning needs; evaluate when and where to make cuts; demonstrate basic pruning cuts used by the trade; compare commercial, municipal and utility applications for pruning; and relate pruning needs for specific trees. Course helps prepare apprentices for future coursework in the 2nd year of related instruction.

Rigging and Tree Removal Fundamentals for Arborist Apprentices
Apprentices will explore concepts and develop skills related to tree removal and rigging. Course learning outcomes include safe climbing, safe tree removal, basic felling skills, rigging loads, using ropes and rigging systems and performing ground work associated with tree removal.

Tree Biology & Identification 2 for Arborist Apprentices
Apprentices will examine tree biology and relate concepts to the work performed by arborists in an urban forestry setting. Course competencies include understanding tree function and structure, categorizing the impact of diseases and pests, examining the CODIT model and exploring tree risk concepts. Course will examine basic plant health needs, tree sites, and nutrition and soil requirements. The second of three tree and shrub identification courses will focus on more coniferous and deciduous trees from the arborist apprenticeship must-know list, and explore associated tree and shrub disorders.

Arborist Skills 3
Arborist skills for third year apprentices will examine light rigging systems and then examine hazards associated with working in trees. Methods for identifying branch failure risks and strategies for assessing and mitigating tree risks will be explored. Course learning outcomes include examining tree support and protection systems, identifying signs and symptoms of decay, and applying the CODIT model to tree defects. Course prepares apprentices for additional coursework in the third year of related instruction.

Advanced Rigging and Tree Felling with Field Skill Building for Arborist Apprentices
Course provides skill development for arborist apprentices related to tree felling and field skills associated with working outside. Competencies include specialized knots and equipment used in rigging applications, making aerial pruning cuts in accordance with tree care standards, tree felling and field work associated with the occupation. Key concepts and safety related to wood under tension will be introduced in this course.

Plant Health Care Treatments & Shrub Identification 3 for Arborist Apprentices
Apprentices will explore plant health care management by examining treatment options and prescriptions. Course learning outcomes will examine PHC options, examine integrated pest management; and build skills handling chemicals, operating equipment and applying treatments. Course will compare specialized equipment used by arborists for plant health care. The course will also explore amending soils and responding to tree damage from construction. Integrated vegetation management standards will be reviewed. Additional tree and shrub disorders will be identified and diagnosed. The third of three tree and shrub identification courses will focus on identifying both evergreen and deciduous woody shrubs in the field. Apprentices must already possess their State applicator’s license before taking this course.

Leadership in Tree Care Operations, Communication Skills, and a Capstone Project
Arborist apprentices will prepare for post-apprenticeship work duties and examine key job duties and tasks associated with tree care operations, communications, planning, and leadership. Course learning outcomes include conducting job briefings, training others, setting up job sites, managing resources, reporting work performed and applying communication and interpersonal skills to various situations. Apprentices will build skills interpreting written work orders/plans, and applying leadership skills to solve problems. A capstone skill-based project is optional – for example plan a tree cabling project for a given situation/scenario which aligns with the ISA tree climber specialist certification.

Transition to Trainer: Your Role as a Journeyworker
You have already learned to use the tools of your chosen trade. In this workshop you will be introduced to a new set of basic tools – the tools of a jobsite trainer. You will explore the skills that are necessary to be an effective trainer, discover how to deliver hands-on training and examine the process for giving useful feedback.

If you meet the following basic qualifications, we want to hear from you!

  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Have a high school diploma, General Educational Development (GED) or equivalent (recommended)
  • Have a valid driver’s license or the ability to get one
  • Be physically able to perform the work with reasonable accommodations
  • Be eligible to work in the United States
  • Pass a drug or alcohol test at time of selection as an apprentice
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Will I get paid?

Yes, you will be an employee, and will earn wages for the time you spend doing on-the-job learning, as well as time spent in the classroom.

Apprentices are paid a progressively-increasing schedule of wages based on hitting certain milestones in on-the-job competencies and in related classroom instruction.

Who pays for the related instruction?

Each employer offers different benefits to their employees. You may or may not be required to pay for the related instruction – this will be discussed between you and your employer once an offer of employment is made.

I’m a veteran. Can I use my GI Bill benefits?

If you are eligible for GI Bill benefits, you may use those benefits while training in an apprenticeship program. Apprenticeship program participants receive wages from an employer and GI Bill benefits at the same time. For more information, click here.

I have some college credits. Are they transferable?

TCIA will review your college transcripts to determine which credits may be transferred into the program.

What kind of work experience is transferable?

Your employer may grant credit of previous work experience based on demonstration of skills or knowledge equivalent to those identified as on-the-job learning (OJL) competencies.

What do I need for my application to the program?

You will begin by creating a profile and login credentials. (Those who are already employed by a TCIA member company may not need to complete this step.) Once you have created a profile or retrieved your login information, you will sign in to the application to answer some questions which will assess your qualification to participate in the Arborist Apprenticeship Program.

You will be required to provide a copy of your resume and unofficial transcript showing your highest level of education in .DOC, .DOCX or .PDF format.

What is the hiring process like?

Once you have completed the application and we have verified it, you will be provided access to a list of employers who are actively seeking to hire an apprentice.

At this point, proceed with your job hunt as you would normally – contact those employers which are of interest to you (they will also have access to see your resume, so they might reach out to you, first!).

Each employer has their own standard hiring practices. They will clarify what their hiring process is.

What can I expect once I am hired?

Once employed and enrolled in the Arborist Apprenticeship Program, you will be at-will employee, subject to your employer’s onboarding, mentoring and disciplinary procedures. Your employer will provide you with continuous employment sufficient to provide the opportunity for completion of your apprenticeship.

Each applicant selected for apprenticeship will serve a probationary period. The probationary period cannot exceed 25 percent of the length of the program or one year, whichever is shorter.