There Is an Urban Forestry Workforce Crisis

Planting and caring for trees is a business that requires skilled workers — people who know how to properly plant and water trees, climb them so they can be pruned, care for their health and more. But there is a labor shortage in the tree industry. There is an annual need for approximately 8,300 tree-industry workers nationwide. There are jobs available for urban foresters, arborists, tree trimmers, pruners and pesticide applicators. On top of that, there are more than 158,900 annual job openings in the landscaping industry.

At the same time, communities with the fewest trees tend to be low-income communities of color with high rates of unemployment. Tree care employers face challenges training and retaining residents in these communities, who often face barriers to employment. Ideally, tree workers work where they live, but tree-related career job training and placement in these communities hasn’t kept pace with demand.

Tree Equity: Career Pathways Initiative Seeks to Close the Gap

The Tree Equity: Career Pathways Initiative supports the Tree Equity mission by working to fill the immense labor shortage in the tree care industry with people who need the jobs the most. The Career Pathways Initiative creates pipelines between low Tree Equity Score communities and tree care employers looking for qualified talent. Whether it be through bolstering the work of pre-employment training programs who train and support community members as they prepare to enter the workforce, or directly connecting individuals with employers while providing wraparound services and retention support, the initiative considers the full cycle of recruitment to retention. The Career Pathways Initiative also works with employers to create an inclusive and supportive workplace to foster growth and success for all new hires, ultimately, influencing the culture of the industry.

The initiative prepares a diverse, thriving workforce to build and sustain economic strength and vibrant, green communities. Entry-level tree trimmers and pruners in the U.S. can begin their careers at a good salary: an annual wage of $44,040 and a median hourly wage of $21.48, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, 25% of entry-level workers in the sector are self-employed, opening the door to entrepreneurship.

Tree Equity Workforce Network: Building Capacity for Urban Forestry Training Programs

The Tree Equity Workforce Network (TEWN), convened by American Forests, is a network of stakeholders whose goal is training and supporting individuals who are underrepresented in the tree care industry, particularly Black, Indigenous and people of color. Developed from feedback by stakeholders to convene a space where cross-sector partners can share ideas and build best practices, TEWN aims to support the development of pre-employment programs and other workforce development initiatives that work to solve the employment gap in the tree care industry. Although TEWN’s focus is on pre-employment programs, any partners engaged in this work, including nonprofit organizations, employers, educators, and local and state agencies are welcome to join the network. Rather than working in silos in individual cities, TEWN provides a space of collaboration for programs to be innovative and creative, as well as learn from one another. The Tree Equity Workforce Network leans on the expertise of network members to improve the design and management of programs in the network, consequently elevating urban forestry pre-employment training across the country.

The foundation of the network is the Arboriculture Pre-Employment Curriculum, which outlines best practices for developing programs that train and support individuals who are underrepresented in the tree care industry, particularly Black, Indigenous and people of color. The curriculum is designed to serve those who face barriers to traditional employment, have little-to-no knowledge or experience in arboriculture, and live in low-income areas. TEWN hosts monthly online convenings, including webinars and networking sessions, facilitates peer-to-peer technical assistance, and provides funding opportunities.

Anyone involved in this work can become a member of TEWN. To join the network, fill out a profile here.

Explore Career Pathways Partners

The map below shows members of the Tree Equity Workforce Network and organizations implementing the WorkForest model.

WorkForest Model: Connecting Diverse Talent with Tree Care Employers

American Forests pioneered a new way to build a diverse urban forestry workforce. Even with an acute labor shortage, women and people of color are still severely underrepresented in tree care. WorkForest is a direct placement model that creates a pipeline between grassroots organizations serving low Tree Equity score communities and urban forestry employers. Grassroots organizations identify potential Black, Indigenous and people of color applicants facing barriers to employment and connect them with urban forestry employers who train and hire these individuals for entry-level, full-time, permanent positions. Grassroots organizations also provide critical wraparound services for six months that bolster retention, which include case management, financial literacy, career coaching and financial support to help navigate cost-prohibitive barriers like transportation and childcare. To promote enduring change, American Forests works with the employer partners to create a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility commitment and training plan for their staff to create an inclusive workplace for new and existing employees.

American Forests launched the WorkForest model in 2021 through a partnership with TAZO Tea (known through this project as the TAZO Tree Corps). The company sought to address climate change and environmental injustice by helping employ low-income, underrepresented individuals to plant and maintain trees in communities that need them the most. TAZO and American Forests worked with The Davey Tree Expert Company and local organizations to hire five people in five cities: Detroit, San Jose, Calif., Minneapolis, Richmond, Va., and Pittsburgh.  

Thanks to interest from other funders, WorkForest is now being rolled out in additional cities, including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and Phoenix. The need for qualified tree professionals is expected to grow by 10% by 2028, and this model seeks to fill this gap through direct placement, community-level partnership and career pipeline creation. Hiring people to care for trees in their own communities not only provides economic opportunities, but also boosts the chances that trees will thrive as they mature.