Each year one new apprentice is hired by Wellington City Council’s arboriculture team and up to 60 people apply for the job.
“Many of them don’t understand what arboriculture even is, but they really want an apprenticeship,” says council Arboriculture Manager William Melville. “The demographic is changing too. It’s not just school leavers anymore. People who’ve been in the workforce for a while and who want a career change are now applying.”
Wellington City Council runs a successful apprenticeship scheme and engages Primary ITO to provide training to around a dozen arboriculture, horticulture and turf management employees at any one time.
“It’s a good quality programme. It allows people to work and learn at the same time. The council is committed to training our employees so they can develop and succeed in their chosen career paths,” William says.
“When we employ people from overseas we also use Primary ITO to recognise their prior learning, to cross credit their qualifications and to give them additional training so they meet NZQA standards.”
Primary ITO runs block courses on specialist subjects at different times throughout the year, allowing the apprentices to step into a classroom and concentrate on their learning.
“Very rarely they’re more than two days at a time so it’s easy to plan around them,” William says. Trainees also complete assignments and work booklets while on the job, and can learn from their qualified colleagues along the way.
The council’s arboriculture team are responsible for looking after 13,000 street trees, 700km of road reserves and 4000ha of town belts around Wellington, so there’s no shortage of hands-on opportunities to acquire new skills.
William says one requirement to be an NZ Arboriculture Association approved contractor, is to have at least one qualified staff member on each and every crew.
“So that’s another incentive for us to get our guys qualified and it’s good for their professional development.”
William says the major issue facing the industry is there isn’t enough trained arborists.
“With increasing health and safety issues it’s hard to attract people to a managed risk job,” he says. “But apprenticeships are a great way for people to work and train at the same time without being straddled with a student debt. It’s a good way to get into a new industry – the challenge for arboriculture is to educate people so they realise the career path exists.”
Primary ITO is the council’s preferred training supplier for arboriculture and William says he would recommend their programme to other employers.
“The standard of training they deliver is excellent and it’s delivered by working professionals so they have real life experience which is important.”
“As an employer you invest a lot of money when you employ someone. The Primary ITO and our apprenticeship system is a good way of producing well-rounded employees who have a good work ethic.”