Most of Charles Corston’s friends are now graduating from university – many of them with hefty student loans. But Charles already bought his first home two years ago, aged just 19.
So what’s the secret to his success? An apprenticeship.
Charles began working part-time for his father’s Christchurch landscaping business, Pave Art, while still studying at St Bede’s College, and is now in his fourth year of fulltime work.
“After school finished I actually thought I might go to uni and study engineering or something because that’s what my older sister had done,” Charles explains. “But I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands. Deciding to do a landscaping apprenticeship instead has certainly worked out well for me. I was able to buy my first house two years ago. I’m now looking at putting a second dwelling on that section and I’m in a good financial position.”
In the time it’s taken for his friends to complete their tertiary study, property prices have risen sharply and tougher lending criteria has come into force. Charles meanwhile, has finished his apprenticeship, which involved studying with Primary ITO, and has made significant improvements to the home he bought.
“All the skills I’ve learnt at work – laying driveways, planting, tree felling – have all been very valuable when it comes to improving my own property. The things that normally cost a lot, like diggers and trucks, don’t cost me anything.
“Landscaping is such an all-round trade that it’s given me a good overview of lots of different skills.”
Charles says he genuinely enjoys his job and looks forward to getting up each morning and heading off to work.
“We do a lot of general landscaping stuff but also driveways, retaining walls and paving plus horticultural plantings too.
“I’ve done everything from building an in-situ pool for effluent segregation on a dairy farm to constructing raised planter boxes for grandmas in suburbia. We do a lot of decks and timberwork as well. I like to make things look really colourful and cool.
“I really like working outside. When you do a landscaping job you get to see and admire what you’ve done at the end of each day, as opposed to electricians or plumbers whose work is always hidden beneath the walls. It’s really satisfying.”
Charles particularly enjoyed the practical assessment side of his apprenticeship, and found the Primary ITO courses on plant naming, botany and soil science “pretty handy”.
“But I must admit I did drag the chain as far as my paperwork goes. I’m a touch dyslexic and I struggle to get that sort of thing done on time.
“Studying with Primary ITO was basically like doing a correspondence course and it’s very flexible, which is great. But you really do need to commit to it and set yourself deadlines to make sure the work gets done.”
Charles’ father, Greg, has owned Pave Art for over 30 years, and the father-son team are happy to continue working alongside one another for years to come. But Charles is quick to point out that landscaping is a great path towards self-employment for people who are keen to be their own boss.
“You can start out small and then become really big because it’s such a broad trade. It doesn’t take long to build up your skills and your confidence. If I wasn’t working with Dad I’d definitely feel ready to go out on my own.”
At the end of the day, learn-as-you-earn has proven to be a great option for the enthusiastic 21 year-old.
“That is definitely one of the leading benefits of an apprenticeship as opposed to going to uni,” he says.
“It’s not unusual for someone to graduate from university with a $50,000 student loan. It will take a long time for them to catch up to where I am now.”