'Trees dying all over:' MATC adds new program to help meet high demand for arborists

MILWAUKEE -- It's a career you may not think about when living in the city -- but there's a high demand for skilled arborists in Milwaukee. There's a new Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) program to teach people about the industry.

There's a science behind safely being an arborist.

"One of the problems with our industry is, so often, people are hired on without any experience ahead of time, and are put into dangerous situations," said Elton Rogers, arborist instructor.

Arborist pre-apprentice program at MATC

Eighteen students are currently enrolled in an arborist pre-apprentice program at MATC -- learning from Milwaukee Area Technical College horticulture/arborist instructors, and working on trees at city and county parks and at Northcott Neighborhood House.

Kevin Roberts

"I just needed a change of scenery, a change of careers," said Kevin Roberts, student.

Roberts, like many of the others, was ready for something different. Some came in unemployed, hoping to leave with a job.

It was actually officials at a private tree service business that asked for this program.

"Right now, we're going through the emerald ash borer crisis, so there are trees dying all over southeast Wisconsin," said August Hoppe, president of Hoppe Tree Service. "Tree care companies are really busy right now. There are simply too many trees, and not enough arborists."

August Hoppe

"I wanted to get involved with nature, and like, something that benefits the habitat, the environment, as well as do something that I like to do, which is be outside," said Roberts.

Students who graduate get two different certifications and three college credits. Several tree service companies plan to be at graduation to interview students.