The Arborist Registered Apprenticeship Program

The Arborist Registered Apprenticeship (ARA) is 3-year, paid job training opportunity for individuals looking for a career in arboriculture. Openlands, the program sponsor, administers the program in partnership with the Department of Labor and local workforce development agencies. Openlands also coordinates with tree care companies and industry professionals across the Chicago region to provide training, create viable career pathways, and improve recruitment, retention and diversity in urban forestry. Program participants are provided hands-on job training and experience, while gaining credentials and knowledge on the many opportunities for arborists.

Building a Green Workforce

By providing entry-level job opportunities, the ARA program is training the next generation of urban forestry professionals. Combatting climate change should simultaneously build resilient infrastructure, improve community health and safety, and create economic opportunities for all people. Through the ARA, Chicago can lead and establish a career pipeline for all communities to access green jobs.

The demand for qualified workforce is high, with 69% of employers reporting difficulty hiring arborists and more than 50% willing to pay a premium for better skilled arborists. Most occupations provide excellent entry level job opportunities that also have little barriers to entry. 

The top employers in the arboriculture field are commercial tree care companies, government municipalities, and utility companies and the tree care industry have historically struggled to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. Additionally, as a growing industry, not enough people think about forestry as a job, let alone understand the opportunities for career advancement throughout their lifetime. The ARA aims to hire and recruit from communities that represent Chicago’s diverse population, prioritize hiring un- or under-employed applicants, and work with industry professionals on advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in arboriculture.

The Apprenticeship

“This program has put me in a very good position to be an arborist and acquire new skills that will allow me to better branch out into arboriculture.  I have learned so much about tree establishment and maintenance as well as more advanced topics like climbing and tree removal.”  

Lisa Mende, 2021 Cohort

The application for the 2023 cohort is now closed. Please sign up for hiring updates for the 2024 cohort.

Growing the Tree Canopy

Trees are one of the best nature-based solutions for the Chicago region to tackle climate change – reducing local heat island effects, controlling stormwater, and improving air quality for all residents. There are over 3.5 million trees in the City of Chicago and over 150 million regionally, which clean our air, capture carbon, and build community. Mature trees offer exponentially greater benefits than small trees and that our program offers necessary and helpful tree maintenance to help get City trees to maturity. In addition, trees are proven to improve community well-being, safety, and economic health. 

But in many communities, our tree canopy—the percentage of the ground shaded by tree branches and leaves—is far below what we need to have a climate resilient metropolis. As the Sun-Times Reports, “Since 2010, due to disease and other factors, Chicago has lost an average of 10,000 more trees than it has planted every year. That’s 200 fewer trees in each of the city’s 50 wards on average each year. The city now has a tree canopy that covers just 19% of its land. The metropolitan area has a canopy of 15.5%. By comparison, New York has 21% coverage and Los Angeles has 25%. “

Communities with the greatest and most diverse citizen participation are often resilient and strong. Engaging citizens to address environmental issues is essential for educated decision-making. Openlands’ approach to caring for and understanding the Urban Forest gives communities resources for involvement in animating civil discourse and action. An approach that is rooted in our mission of connecting people to nature, we work with communities to plant diverse tree species in their neighborhoods, train hundreds of people each year to care for the tree canopy in their parks and on their blocks, and advocate for science-based policies and strategies to protect the existing urban forest for generations to come. 

There are many ways to care for the trees with Openlands, including adopting a tree to care for.