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The Arborist Registered Apprenticeship Program

The Arborist Registered Apprenticeship is a 3-year training program administered by Openlands in partnership with the Department of Labor and Tree Care Companies across the Chicago region. The Apprenticeship coordinates with the industry to improve recruitment and retention, and create a path to welcome a more diverse and experienced applicant pool. At the same time, the program introduces participating apprentices to a diverse array of career opportunities in Arboriculture and Urban Forestry all while being paid, gaining credentials, and professional training by certified arborists in the field.  

Building a Green Workforce

Combatting climate change should simultaneously build resilient infrastructure, improve community health and safety, safeguard wildlife, and strengthen and create economic opportunities and sustainability for all people. Chicago can lead and establish a structure to provide that transition to workers and communities. Green jobs are not just jobs in the energy sector but also are jobs working in protecting ecosystems and biodiversity and storing and mitigating carbon through natural systems.

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 the tree care industry, government municipalities, utility companies, and more. As a relatively young industry, tree care companies have struggled to recruit a diverse workforce and retain them. The most recent national study in 2002 reported that people of color represented only 5% of the workforce and women made up only 10%. 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 Apprenticeship

Openlands understands its success in mitigating the effects of climate change and building green equity in Chicago is linked to the growth of a diverse and inclusive Arboriculture industry in our region. As an organization at the nexus of the tree care industry, Chicago communities, and governmental partnerships, Openlands is uniquely positioned to lead the first registered arborist apprenticeship program in Illinois. 

“This program has been super beneficial because it gave me insight into what to expect with different jobs, it shows you what you can get into, you get to meet all sorts of different people involved in the community and also in the industry. It helped create some of those initial networks I can use later on in my career.”

Tonatiu Rodriguez, 2020 Graduate of the Forestry Training Program

The Arborist Registered Apprenticeship builds on the success of Openlands Forestry Training Program, to deliver a 3-year training program that gives apprentices 5,400 hours of on-the-job training, certifications, and networking experiences – preparing them for a successful career in the Arboriculture field.

Sign up to learn more about the Arborist Registered Apprenticeship and be alerted with the next round of applications open. Email ara@openlands.org with any questions.

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.