Pest Controllers

Significant Points

  • Federal and State laws require licensure through training and examination.
  • Because many people do not find pest control work appealing, those with the necessary skills and interests should have favorable job prospects.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Roaches, rats, mice, spiders, termites, fleas, ants, and bees—few people welcome them into their homes or offices. Unwanted creatures that infest households, buildings, or surrounding areas are pests that can pose serious risk to human health and safety. It is a pest controller’s job to control them.

Pest controllers locate, identify, destroy, and repel pests. They use their knowledge of pests’ lifestyles and habits, along with an arsenal of pest management techniques—applying chemicals, setting traps, operating equipment, and even modifying structures—to alleviate pest problems.

The best known method of pest control is pesticide application. Pest controllers use two different types of pesticides—general use and restricted use. General use pesticides are the most widely used and are readily available; in diluted concentrations, they are available to the public. Restricted use pesticides are available only to certified professionals for controlling the most severe infestations. Their registration, labeling, and application are regulated by Federal law, interpreted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), because of their potential harm to pest controllers, customers, and the environment.

Pesticides are not pest controllers’ only tool, however. Pest controllers increasingly use a combination of pest management techniques, known as integrated pest management. One method involves using proper sanitation and creating physical barriers, for pests cannot survive without food and will not infest a building if they cannot enter it. Another method involves using baits, some of which destroy the pests and others that prevent them from reproducing. Yet another method involves using mechanical devices, such as traps and tools, that electrocute, freeze, or burn pests.

Integrated pest management is becoming popular for several reasons. First, pesticides can pose environmental and health risks. Second, some pests are becoming more resistant to pesticides in certain situations. Finally, an integrated pest management plan is more effective in the long term than use of a pesticide alone.

Most pest controllers perform duties for one of three positions—pest control technician, applicator, or supervisor. Position titles vary by State, but the hierarchy—based on training and responsibility required—remains consistent.

Pest control service technicians identify problem areas and operate and maintain traps. They assist applicators by carrying supplies, organizing materials, and preparing equipment. In addition, they may make sales presentations on pest control products or services.. Technicians are licensed to apply pesticides only under an applicator’s supervision.

Certified pest control applicators, sometimes called exterminators, perform the same tasks technicians do. But they are also certified to apply all pesticides, both general and restricted use, without supervision and are licensed to supervise and train technicians in pesticide use. Within this group of workers are several subspecialties, including termite exterminators and fumigators.

Termite exterminators are applicators who specialize in controlling termites. They use chemicals and modify structures to eliminate and prevent termites. To treat infested areas, termite exterminators drill holes and cut openings into buildings to access infestations. To prevent further infestation, they modify foundations and dig holes and trenches around buildings. Some termite exterminators even repair structural damage caused by termites.

Fumigators are applicators who control pests using poisonous gasses called fumigants. Fumigators pretreat infested buildings by examining, measuring, and sealing the buildings. Then, using cylinders, hoses, and valves, they fill structures with the proper amount and concentration of fumigant. They also monitor the premises during treatment for leaking gas. To prevent accidental fumigant exposure, fumigators padlock doors and post warning signs.

Pest control supervisors, also known as operators, direct service technicians and certified applicators. Supervisors are licensed to apply pesticides, but they usually are more involved in running the business. Supervisors are responsible for ensuring employee adherence to rules and must resolve problems with regulatory officials. Most States require each pest control establishment to have a supervisor; self-employed business owners are usually supervisors.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Pest controllers must kneel, bend, reach, and crawl to inspect, modify, and treat structures. They work both indoors and out, in all weather conditions. During warm weather, applicators may be uncomfortable wearing the heavy protective gear—such as respirators, gloves, and goggles—required for working with pesticides.

Almost half of all pest controllers work 40-hour weeks, but about a quarter work more hours. Pest controllers often work evenings and weekends, but about 90 percent of them work consistent shifts.

There are health risks associated with pesticide use. Various pest control chemicals are toxic and could pose health risks if not used properly. Extensive training required for certification and the use of recommended protective equipment minimizes these health risks, resulting in fewer reported cases of lost work. Because pest controllers travel to visit clients, the potential risk of motor vehicle accidents is another occupational hazard.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Pest controllers held about 52,000 jobs in 1998; over 90 percent of salaried workers were employed in the services to buildings industry. They are concentrated in States with warmer climates. In 1997, more than half of all pest controllers worked in California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. About 14 percent were self-employed.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum qualification for most pest controller jobs. Although a college degree is not required, almost one-third of all pest controllers have either attended college or earned a degree.

Pest controllers must have basic skills in math, chemistry, and writing. Because of the extensive interaction pest controllers have with their customers, employers prefer to hire people who have good communication and interpersonal skills. In addition, most pest control companies require their employees to have a good driving record. Pest controllers must be in good health because of the physical demands of the job, and they also must be able to withstand extreme conditions—such as the heat of climbing into an attic in the summertime or the chill of sliding into a crawlspace during winter.

Both Federal and State laws regulate pest controllers. These laws require them to be certified through training and examination, for which most pest control firms help their employees prepare. Workers may receive both formal classroom and on-the-job training, but they must also study on their own. Because the pest control industry is constantly changing, workers must attend continuing education classes to maintain their certification.

Requirements for pest controllers vary by State. Pest controllers usually begin their careers as apprentice technicians. Before performing any pest control services, apprentices must attend general training in pesticide safety and use. In addition, they must train in each pest control category in which they wish to practice. Categories may include general pest control, rodent control, termite control, fumigation, and ornamental and turf control.

Training usually involves spending 10 hours in the classroom and 60 hours on the job for each category. After completing the required training, apprentices can provide supervised pest control services. Apprentices have up to 1 year to prepare for and pass the written examinations. Upon successful completion of the exams, the apprentice becomes licensed as a technician.

To be eligible to become applicators, technicians need 1 year of experience, 6 months of which must be as a licensed technician. This requirement is sometimes waived for individuals who have either a college degree in biological sciences or extensive related work experience. To become certified as applicators, technicians must pass an additional set of category exams. Depending on the State, applicators must attend additional classes every 1 to 6 years to be recertified.

Applicators with several years of experience often become supervisors. To qualify as a pest control supervisor, applicators must pass State-administered exams and have experience in the industry, usually a minimum of 2 years. Many supervisors are self-employed, reflecting the relative ease of entry into the field and the growing need for pest control. Therefore, the pest control industry provides a good opportunity for people interested in operating their own business.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Many people do not find pest control work appealing, so those with the necessary skills and interests should have favorable prospects. Employment of pest controllers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2008. In addition to job openings arising from employment growth, opportunities will arise when controllers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.

Demand for pest controllers is projected to increase for a number of reasons. An expanding client base will develop as environmental and health concerns, greater numbers of dual-income households, and improvements in the standard of living convince more people to hire professionals rather than attempt pest control work themselves. In addition, tougher regulations limiting pesticide use will demand more complex integrated pest management strategies. Furthermore, some of the newer materials used for insulation around foundations have made many homes more susceptible to pest infestation. Finally, continuing population shifts to the more pest-prone sunbelt States should increase the number of households in need of pest control.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

The hierarchy of pest controller positions also applies to earnings. Pest control supervisors usually earn the most and technicians the least, with earnings of certified applicators falling somewhere in between. Earnings data do not distinguish among job titles, however.

Median hourly earnings of full-time wage and salary pest controllers in 1998 were $10.81. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.80 and $13.02. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $6.68, and the top 10 percent earned over $15.67.

Many pest controllers work under a wage-plus commission system, which rewards workers who do their job well. Some firms offer bonuses to workers who exceed their performance goals.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Pest controllers visit homes and places of business to provide building services. Other building services workers include construction equipment and materials salespeople, building cleaning personnel,electricians, carpenters, and heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration technicians.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Disclaimer: Links to other Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

Private employment agencies and State employment services offices have information about available job opportunities for pest controllers.

For information about the training and certification required in your State, contact your local office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or your State’s Environmental Protection Agency.

For general information about a career in pest control, contact:

O*NET Codes: 67008 About the O*NET codes

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