Pest Controller – vocational guidance

Pest Controller – vocational guidance – Abstract

Erik A. Savisaar

Roaches, rats, spiders, mice, termites, fleas, ants, and bees–few people welcome them into their homes or offices. All 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 do away with them. You might envision pest controllers as workers wearing protective suits and spraying lethal pesticides. While this image may be accurate, it is incomplete; pest controllers do much more. This article describes pest controllers’ duties, where they work, employment numbers, job outlook, earnings, training requirements, and opportunities for advancement. It also lists sources for finding more information.

Nature of the Work

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

The best known method of pest control is pesticide application. Pest controllers apply two different types of pesticides: common use and restricted use. Common 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 professionals for the most severe infestations. Their application is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of their potential harm to pest controllers, customers, and the environment.

But pesticides are not pest controllers’ only weapon. A growing trend in the pest control industry is integrated pest management, a combination of pest management techniques. Two simple methods involve 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 which 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, current research on certain pesticides has revealed additional environmental and health risks. Second, pests are becoming more resistant to pesticides in certain situations. Finally, an integrated pest management plan is more effective than use of a pesticide alone.

Job Duties

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. In this article, the section on training discusses those job requirements in more detail.

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

Pest control applicators. Sometimes called exterminators, applicators 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 post warning signs and padlock doors.

Pest control supervisors. Also known as operators, pest control supervisors direct technicians and applicators. Supervisors are licensed to apply pesticides, but they are usually 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 often work as supervisors.

Working Conditions

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 over a quarter work more hours. Pest controllers often work evenings and weekends, but over 90 percent of them work consistent shifts. Because pest controllers travel to visit clients, one of the job’s risks includes being involved in motor vehicle accidents.

There are also health risks associated with pesticide use. Various pest control chemicals have been linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, and reproductive disorders. Extensive training required for certification has minimized these health risks, resulting in few reported cases of lost work.

Employment and Outlook

Pest controllers held about 60,000 jobs in 1996. They are concentrated in States with warmer climates. In 1996, more than half of all pest controllers worked in California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas; over 70 percent of the firms employed nine or fewer workers. Almost 1 in 10 was self-employed.

Employment of pest controllers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. In addition to job openings arising from employment growth, opportunities will arise when controllers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Many people do not find pest control work appealing, so those with the necessary skills and interests should have favorable prospects.

Demand for pest controllers is projected to increase for a number of reasons. First, 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. Second, tougher regulations limiting pesticide use will force the need for more complex integrated pest management strategies. Third, some of the newer materials used for insulation around foundations have made certain 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.


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

Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary pest controllers in 1996 were $421. The middle 50 percent earned between $411 and $514 a week. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $237, and the top 10 percent earned over $616 per week. Many pest controllers work under a wage-plus commission system, which rewards workers who do their job well. Firms often offer bonuses to workers who exceed their performance goals. Many pest controllers receive benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation, and sick leave.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum qualification for most pest controller jobs. Although a college degree is not required, almost half 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 those 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 under a crawlspace during winter.

Pest controllers are regulated by both Federal and State laws. These laws require them to be licensed through training and examination, which most pest control firms prepare their employees for. Workers 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 licensure.

Requirements for structural 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 include nuisance pest control, wood preservation and treatment, 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.

Technicians need 1 year of experience, 6 months of which must be as a licensed technician, for eligibility to become applicators. 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 I 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. Because of the growing need for pest control and ease of entry into the field, many supervisors become self-employed. Therefore, the pest control industry provides a good opportunity for people interested in operating their own business.

Related Occupations

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 and ventilation technicians.

For More Information

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 information about pest control education resources, visit the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s Institute of Agricultural and Natural Resources, Pesticide Education Office, online at:

For general information about a career in pest control, contact: National Pest Control Association 8100 Oak Street Dunn Loring, VA 22027

Erik A. Savisaar is an economist in the Office of Employment Projections, BLS, (202) 606-5698.

COPYRIGHT 1998 U.S. Government Printing Office

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