Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

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Bitesize business

Author:  Jenny Long & Kirsty McNicol
Last Updated:  09/08/2021
Young person climbing a tree

Help and ideas from the Media & Communications Committee team

Jenny Long and Kirsty McNicol

People are the key asset in any successful business, but for many contractors recruiting the right staff is a daunting and time-consuming process. As successful arb business managers, who both have previous career experience outside the world of arb in recruiting, training and managing staff, we often get asked for help and advice by other contractors and also by staff looking for work. Here are some of our top tips to help in the recruitment and job-hunting process.


What do you need?

It is really important to start with a clear idea of what you actually need. Do you want a grounds person, a second climber who will work the ground or a climbing crew leader? Do you need full-time employed staff or part-time freelancers? What qualifications do you require as a minimum, bearing in mind that if you are working in two-man teams your ground staff will need aerial rescue.

You might not want to write a formal job description, but do make a list of exactly what work you will be asking someone to do and consider in advance how much you will pay. Remember, if you are offering full-time work, this is not a freelance arrangement and you need to employ staff. If you do take on freelancers (self-employed, part-time staff who are responsible for their own tax and NI), you are still responsible for their health and safety and they will still be working under your insurance, so check your insurance is adequate for the number of staff you have.


  • Word of mouth – ask your existing staff if they know anyone looking for work, and make sure your staff, friends and contacts know you are looking for additional people. This is free so do loads of it!
  • Your social media pages – put adverts on your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter pages, and make them eye catching so that people want to work with you. This can be a free option, although Facebook allows you to boost job ads and at Chapel Trees we have found this to be successful as you can set your geographical area, reach hundreds of people and the cost is relatively low.
  • Websites such as Arbjobs, the Arb Association and Indeed will allow you to post an advert but there is a more significant cost.
  • Local colleges – if you are looking for entry-level staff, contact the arb department at your local college to see if any arb students are looking for work.
  • Military leavers – lots of military leavers are interested in working in arb, so contact organisations such as HighGround (see page 64) and the Careers Transition Partnership.
Arborists felling a tree

Reviewing applicants

Don’t believe everything you see on a CV. Pick out key things and look for:

  • Qualifications – and how long they have held them
  • Their location
  • Whether they can drive and tow
  • How long they have been in each job
  • Relevant experience – and any skills that may be transferrable. Some of our best staff came to us with qualifications but little arb experience; however, they had plenty of transferable skills and a desire to learn.


Try putting together a template tick list for all the ‘must haves’ for the role and then fill one in for each applicant. You can then narrow down who you want to meet/call.

Even an informal interview (by phone or face to face) can offer you the chance to find out a bit more about the person, chat more about their experience, find out what type of work they have been doing, find out their salary expectations, give them details of the job, salary, use of truck etc. If they have climbing tickets, you can ask more about their actual experience.

A key question to ask is why they want the job, so you can start to establish who they are and what motivates them. Only you will know the kind of staff that will fit with your company values and way of working.

At Chapel Trees we do a phone interview and if they pass that, then we invite them to a trial day (paid) where we can really interview them by seeing them on the job and interacting with the team. As well as qualifications and experience, you want to find someone who will complement and support your current team.

If you do offer a trial day, make it clear that this is a no-obligation trial and that after this a job offer may or may not be made. You must also make it clear whether the trial day will be paid or unpaid. You should ask anyone coming on a trial day to fill in an emergency contact form and provide any relevant information about medical conditions that you should be aware of before working with them. Ask them to bring their certificates along or send them in advance so you know they are qualified for tasks you may ask them to do. You may also like to put together a disclaimer about the day and what is and is not expected and included, e.g. as long as they are working responsibly then they will be covered by your insurance.


When you do find a candidate that is right for you, make them an offer (verbally or by email is fine) and then follow that with the following:

  • Offer of employment letter giving salary, hours, pension information, details of probation period etc. This offer letter with the other information you send (which may include a more formal contract of employment) forms a contract with an employee. Once you have made an offer (even if only verbally) and it has been accepted, this is legally binding. Your offer can be conditional on certain terms, for example their gaining specific qualifications in order to carry out the role. For a freelancer you can put together a less formal freelance agreement which clearly states what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. This is very useful to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • We send out our contract pack with our H&S policy, personal details form (name, address, NI number, date of birth, references if you want them, bank details etc.), a vehicle form to assess whether they can drive our company vehicles, and for employed staff, a copy of our employee handbook.
  • You must also ensure you get proof-of-right-to-work ID (this will usually be a birth certificate or passport) and copies of all their tickets.
  • Induction on the first day – issuing PPE and equipment, company rules etc. Introduce them to the teams. Remember, the person may be nervous so take time to explain everything to them.
  • Probation period – use this wisely and give constructive feedback throughout this time. If there are issues then go through them and make it clear if any improvement is needed. Be open and honest so that people can improve. If it is required, extend the probation period.

Tips for those looking for work

Currently there are lots of vacancies in the arb world so it is a great time to be looking for work.

What can you do to find that perfect job?

  • Contact companies direct – send companies you are interested in a quick email to see if they have any vacancies in your area.
  • Check regularly on sites such as Arbjobs, the Arb Association and Indeed – most are updated daily so make sure you are signed up for updates.
  • Chat to existing tree surgeons.
Reference materials
Qualifications and certification

What info will companies want?

  • Most companies won’t insist you send a CV, but if you have one then keep it simple – your details, your qualifications, experience. Ideally, no more than one A4 page.
  • If you haven’t got a CV, don’t panic – most companies will be happy with an email giving an overview of your qualifications etc.
  • Although it is good to seem keen, don’t harass companies that you have contacted. Ringing them over and over will end up being irritating rather than looking keen.


The key things are to turn up on time, clean and tidy (they will understand if it is after work and you are in your kit!) and open to talking about your experience and qualifications.

  • Be relaxed. Most interviews will be informal.
  • Don’t lie or exaggerate – better to be honest about your experience than to be found out later about the lack of it!
  • Take a list of questions with you regarding the key things you’ll need to know – pay, hours, PPE, equipment, training etc.
  • Although it maybe OK within the team when working, don’t swear during the interview – this is the first impression you will give and those interviewing will want to know how good you’ll be with their customers.
  • If it is a trial day you are going on then try not to wear any branded kit for a competitor if you have worked for them. You must make sure you know what you are expected to bring – PPE, saws, etc.
  • Also, ask if they want copies of all your certs.

For those looking to start a career in arb

It is an exciting time for arboriculture, making it a great time for those looking to start a career in the industry, but with so many routes to becoming an arborist, here are some FAQs aimed at those considering this career.

Do I need to go to college?

There are several routes available when you are looking at gaining a job as a tree surgeon:

  • Arb Apprenticeship – a two-year course that combines study with working for an employer. Includes some practical qualifications.
  • Level 2 or 3 Arboriculture course at college – full-time college course where you’ll learn both practical arboriculture and theory.
  • Short courses to gain practical qualifications – both colleges and independent training providers offer ground and aerial chainsaw courses. A good route if you either cannot or don’t want to sign up for a long-term course at college.
  • Trainee roles at a company who would then put you through qualifications.

What qualifications will I need?

Some employers will take you on as a trainee without any prior qualifications but many will look for people with basic chainsaw qualifications. These will usually be:

  • Level 2 Chainsaw maintenance and cross cutting
  • Level 2 Felling and processing trees up to 380mm
  • Level 2 Tree climbing and aerial rescue
  • Level 3 Chainsaw from a rope and harness

Having in-date first aid training (ideally with the plus F add-on aimed at those working in the industry which also covers severe bleeds and falls from height), woodchipper qualification and a driving licence with towing will also be useful.

Do companies take on people for work experience or as trainees?

Each company is different so it is worth contacting arb companies in your local area to see if they can offer any work experience or trainee roles. The size of the company, what work they carry out and how their teams are made up will affect whether they are able to give work experience or trainee opportunities (offering work experience can be tricky due to the nature of the industry). If you are successful then remember this is your chance to make a good impression and show that you are worth offering a job to.

Larger companies with utility contracts are often hiring and will take on trainees and put them through their qualifications. Although we meet many staff who say they don’t want to do utility work, it is an excellent grounding in tree work as you get out full time on a saw and are working in teams with experienced staff. Once your saw skills and climbing have progressed, you become much more appealing to domestic tree companies, if that is what you hope to pursue.

What can I do as preparation for applying for a course or job in arb?

There are a few things you can do to get ahead of others who are looking for work in arb:

  • Get outside with a basic tree ID book and learn about trees and how to identify them.
  • Learn some basic knots such as bowline, distel and prusik – there is lots of how-to information on You Tube and many books available.
  • Keep your fitness up or improve it – using a chainsaw all day and climbing trees is physically demanding and having a good level of fitness will help in both your training and your day-to-day job.
  • Look at the Arb Association website for lots of information on trees, careers in tree work and updates within the industry.
  • Get to the ARB Show (which was sadly virtual again this year) and network, talk to people and find out all you can about all the companies in your area.
  • And finally, don’t give up! This is a very rewarding industry with many interesting career opportunities!

We hope you have found this useful, if you have any queries then you can contact us at chairmedia@trees.org.uk.

Useful links

www.gov.uk/browse/employing-people – This government website will give you all the up-to-date legal information on your obligations as an employer (as well as your rights as an employee).

Jenny Long and Kirsty McNicol

Jenny Long is a Director of Chapel Tree Services, an Arb Association Trustee and Chair of Media & Communications committee.

Kirsty McNicol is Manager of Hi-Line Training, a member of the Arb Association Media & Communications Committee and a member of the Development Board for HighGround.

This article was taken from Issue 194 Autumn 2021 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.