Federal and State laws require that pest control workers be
Training on the safe use of pest control products and a passing
score on an examination are required for licensure.
Job prospects should be favorable for qualified applicants
because many people leave the occupation.
Nature of the Work
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 risks to human health and safety. It is
a pest control worker’s job to eliminate them.
Pest control workers locate, identify, destroy, control, and
repel pests. They use their knowledge of pests’ biology and habits,
along with an arsenal of pest management techniques—applying chemicals,
setting traps, operating equipment, and even modifying structures—to
alleviate pest problems.
Part of pest control may require pesticide application. Pest
control workers 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 U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), because of their potential harm to pest
control workers, customers, and the environment.
Pesticides are not pest control workers’ only tool, however.
Pest control workers 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, that remove pests from the immediate environment.
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.
New technology has been introduced that allows pest control workers
to conduct home inspections, mainly of termites, in much less
time. The technology works by implanting microchips in baiting
stations, which emit signals that can tell pest control workers
if there is termite activity at one of the baiting stations. Workers
pick up the signals using a device similar to a metal detector
and it allows them to assess much more quickly whether termites
Most pest control workers are employed as pest control technicians,
applicators, or supervisors. Position titles vary by State, but
the hierarchy—based on training and responsibility required—remains
Pest control technicians identify potential pest problems,
conduct inspections, and design control strategies. They work
directly with the customer. Some technicians require a higher
level of training depending on their task. If certain products
are used, the technician may be required to become a certified
Applicators that specialize in controlling termites are called
termite control technicians. They use chemicals and modify structures
to eliminate termites and prevent reinfestation. To treat infested
areas, termite control technicians drill holes and cut openings
into buildings to access infestations, install physical barriers,
or bait systems around the structure. Some termite control technicians
even repair structural damage caused by termites.
Fumigatorsare applicatorswho control
pests using poisonous gases 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
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
that employees obey rules regarding pesticide use, and they must
resolve any problems that arise with regulatory officials or customers.
Most States require each pest control establishment to have a
supervisor; self-employed business owners usually are supervisors.
Pest control workers 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 control workers work a 40-hour week,
but 25% work more hours. Pest control workers often work evenings
and weekends, but many work consistent shifts.
There are health risks associated with pesticide use. Various
pest control chemicals are toxic and could be harmful if not used
properly. Health risks are minimized, however, by the extensive
training required for certification and the use of recommended
protective equipment, resulting in fewer reported cases of lost
work. Because pest control workers travel to visit clients, the
potential risk of motor vehicle accidents is another occupational
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum qualification
for most pest control jobs. Although a college degree is not required,
more than 4 in 10 pest control workers have either attended college
or earned a degree.
Pest control workers must have basic skills in math, chemistry,
and writing, either learned at school or through an employer.
Because of the extensive interaction that pest control workers
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 control workers 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 control workers. 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 also must 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 control workers vary by State. Pest control
workers 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
In many States, 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. To be eligible to become applicators, technicians
must have a combination of experience and education and pass a
test. 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 may have
to pass State-administered exams and have experience in the industry,
usually a minimum of 2 years.
Pest control workers held about 68,000 jobs in 2004; about 83
percent of workers were employed in the services to buildings
and dwellings industry, which includes pest control firms. Jobs
are concentrated in States with warmer climates, due to the greater
number of pests in these areas that thrive year round. About 12
percent of workers were self-employed.
Job prospects should be favorable for qualified applicants because
the nature of pest control work is not universally appealing and
turnover in this occupation is relatively high. Thus, in addition
to job openings arising from employment growth, opportunities
will result from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation.
Employment growth of pest control workers is expected to be faster
than the average for all occupations through 2014. One factor
limiting growth in this occupation, however, is the lack of sufficient
numbers of workers willing to go into this field.
Demand for pest control workers is projected to increase for
a number of reasons. Growth in the population will generate new
residential and commercial buildings that will require inspections
by pest control workers. Also, more people are expected to use
pest control services 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
Concerns about the effects of pesticide use in schools have increasingly
prompted more school districts to investigate alternative means
of pest control, such as integrated pest management. Furthermore,
use of some newer materials for insulation around foundations
has 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.
Median hourly earnings of full-time wage and salary pest control
workers were $12.61 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned
between $10.06 and $15.97. The lowest 10 percent earned less than
$8.13, and the top 10 percent earned over $20.19. Pest control
supervisors usually earn the most and technicians the least, with
earnings of certified applicators falling somewhere in between.
Some pest control workers earn commissions based on the number
of contracts for pest control services they sell. Others may earn
bonuses for exceeding performance goals.
Pesticide handlers also apply pesticides in a safe manner to
lawns, trees, and other plants. Pest control workers visit homes
and places of business to provide building services. Other workers
who provide services to buildings include building cleaning workers;
grounds maintenance workers; various construction trades workers,
such as carpenters; and heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration
mechanics and installers.
Sources of Additional Information
Private employment agencies and State employment services offices
have information about available job opportunities for pest control
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 (or Conservation)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics,
U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,