‘I never thought climbing trees would be this fun’

Jordan Hattaway never thought he’d be a natural climber. But after spotting a Facebook post about an arborist with an MPTT scholarship, he decided to check out the trade. Less than a year later, he’s recently had the chance to compete in a national tree climbing competition. 

Jordan only started his arborist training this year, but he’s already made it to a national competition for his trade. 

Having entered a regional competition in Auckland, the 23-year-old didn’t quite qualify for nationals – but he impressed the judges enough to be picked as a wild card for the national competition in Queenstown, which he attended this month.

“It was a really exhilarating competition, especially for a boy who had no background in it. I never thought climbing trees would be this fun,” says Jordan.

“My next goal is to push for next year’s comp, and in the next five years to get a New Zealand title.”

Career climber

Competitive tree climbing is a replication of best practice in the arboriculture industry, without actually cutting a tree. Competing in these events helps further an arborist’s career.

To help Jordan (Ngāti Whātua) attend the event, MPTT provided $850 to cover his flights, accommodation and registration fee.

“All I can say is thank you to MPTT. They’ve done a lot for me so far and I can’t overstate what it’s done for me,” says Jordan, who lives with his partner, mother-in-law and 10-month-old daughter. 

“The scholarship has changed my life, honestly. This is definitely going to set me up for life and set my family up for life.”

Branching out

The Manukau Institute of Technology trainee began his training at the start of 2020, so is “real green to the arborist industry”. Having seen an MPTT Facebook post about becoming an arborist, he decided to check it out with his brother-in-law.

Jordan was chosen as a ‘wild card’ competitor for the national tree climbing event in Queenstown, which he attended with his tutor Zane Wedding and other trainees from MIT.

“As soon as we saw someone swinging in a tree, we were thinking, ‘Yeah, this is for us’. We’re basically like monkeys.” 

“I just never thought climbing would be something I would do. I didn’t even see that I had this natural ability to climb things.”

He spends around three days a week on his coursework, and on other days works at Specimen Treecare in Panmure. He also practices tree climbing on weekends, often in a reserve or park. 

“We’ll find a big tree somewhere that’s not dangerous, and we’ll practice for five or six hours on a weekend. That’s so we can get our muscle memory, so we remember what to do when we’re in a comp,” he says.

“I want to win a national title so I can be known in the book of arboriculture. It’s just going to be a hell of a lot of training. But, you know, I’m up for it. I’m ready to put in the effort.”

Māori and Pasifika Trades students are always part of the whānau, even after graduation. As one of our alumni, we’ll let you know about industry news and job offers and give you ongoing access to a supportive network in the trades. Make sure you follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay connected.

Young arborist sets his sights high

What if you could get paid to climb trees? As Ngati Kaihau discovered, a love for doing physical work outdoors and respect for the land could make you a natural arborist – and create a wealth of opportunities for you and your whānau. Find out how this father of three with a fear of heights became a talented arborist, competitive tree climber and business owner.

For Ngati Kaihau, being an arborist is in the blood. Following in his dad’s footsteps, he discovered a natural passion and respect for trees and the physical, hands-on work that comes with caring for them. 

Now that he’s qualified, his mission is to pass this knowledge on to his three young sons, and expand his business to help others. 

“I love it. It’s crazy cos if you sat down and had a korero with my dad, you’d see the same drive in him. And now when I’m out with my oldest son, he just wants to climb trees too. I’ve already got him a little harness and I’ll put it up in the tree and he swings around from branch to branch. So, it’s just going to roll on and roll on.

“That’s the ultimate goal for me, to get a business flowing so that it not only helps me, but also sets up a future for my sons and wider whānau.” 

Being an arborist is about much more than cutting down trees, says Ngati. He and his whānau are passionate about their role as kaitiaki (caretakers), protecting and nurturing this country’s ngahere (forest). 

For Ngati, being an arborist is far more than a job — it’s about fulfilling a role as kaitiaki of New Zealand’s trees.

“If I’m on the job and I see a stand of karaka trees, I’ll be looking at those trees and thinking they were possibly planted there for their abundance of kai 150 to 200 years ago. So that’s what I see, the strong history between those trees and the land.

“Respect needs to be shown to the tree itself, because of the history it’s seen. It changes things when you see it that way.” 

Chip off the old block

Ngati learned the basic skills of the trade from his dad, experienced arborist Pehi Kaihau, before enrolling in a NZ Cert in Horticulture Level 4 (Arborist) at Manukau Institute of Technology, with help from an MPTT scholarship. 

Completing the course in 2017 really took his knowledge to the next level, he says. Now just a few years into his career, the 26-year-old is already running his own business and working as a contractor, including doing work for his iwi Ngāti Te Ata, around Awhitu Peninsula.

“As a representative arborist, I work alongside council and give that opinion on the Māori aspect and help them see our cultural approach towards everything to do with nature, from cutting down trees to planting out streams.”

Having a qualification adds weight to his experience and has opened up opportunities, he says.

“Because I obtained my arboriculture ticket through MIT, I hold a title through my iwi. For iwi to be cleaning up a streamline that’s on marae land, it’s much better than getting someone else in to clear it out. We might be looking at clearing out old wāhi tapu (burial grounds), so it’s a sign of respect to send our own people through those lands to plant it out or clear out trees.”

His work with iwi offers huge variety, including site observations, pest control of native bush, or riparian planting. Alongside this work, Ngati also has jobs across Auckland as a contract arborist, which sees him climbing trees with a chainsaw.

Carefully following safety procedures is an essential part of the job, says Ngati. 

“I’ve been climbing for quite a while but I do get scared of those heights. It’s crazy cos I’ll be doing my cutting and I’ll take a look down and realise, far out, if I make a mistake and cut my rope or miss a procedure, that’s my life just gone. And that’s always in the back of my mind. I just have to keep those steps and procedures.”

Ngati says the industry offers high-paying work to qualified and capable workers.

“You can make ridiculous money if you do your job well.” 


His former MIT lecturer Zane Wedding (Ngāti Kuri, Ngāti Pikiao) says arboriculture is a great career for people like Ngati who love doing physical work outdoors.

“Ngati came with a real enthusiasm to be a climber, and had a natural passion for New Zealand native bush. And that was a real catalyst for his success. He’s also very physically able. He was just a young Māori kid with heaps of energy, and when I put him on a rope, he was just racing around.” 

Out on a limb

A talented climber, Ngati won the Auckland Young Arborist competition in 2017 and then competed in the Nationals in Dunedin, taking fourth place. He also travelled to Australia to compete in a competition sponsored by Red Bull, and placed 48 out of 100 of the best climbers in the world.

“For a young Māori boy who’d never been on a plane, I was quite shocked – big eyes and looking everywhere. Just placing in that spot, I got so many job opportunities. People were asking me to move over to Australia and work in their company. It was awesome,” he says.

“You get to see the best climbers in the world, you get to meet the best climbers in the world – and then when they see you climb, they offer you jobs. That networking opportunity at comps is wicked.” 

Zane, who’s currently ranked fourth best tree climber in the country as well as being a senior lecturer in arboriculture(tree maintenance) at MIT, says competitive tree climbing is a replication of best practice within the arboriculture industry, at speed, without actually cutting a tree. 

Ngati (left) refers to Zane (front) as one of his biggest role models: “That guy changed my life.”

“So, we race around and climb a tree just like we would at work, but instead of cutting a tree, we have a bell that we ring to simulate where we would have cut a branch off. 

“When it becomes a competition, you find these kids who have grown up playing rugby in the competitive sporting environment are like, ‘What? This job is actually something I can compete in?’”

Zane says there’s a shortage of qualified, skilled arborists around the world, and competitive success and industry success go hand-in-hand. 

”If you do well in competitions you can go out and say, ‘I’m capable and I charge this much’. It puts money in the pocket.”

Ngati says his ultimate aim is to grow his business to be able to offer employment to many others in his community. 

“It’s a massive goal. We have such a big family where there’s so many of our young people who get into trouble. I want to give them that opportunity to have a job, even if it’s just planting hundreds of plants or cutting down trees. That would make me feel better, that everyone else is happy as well.”


How can you become an arborist?
Arborists are in demand in New Zealand and overseas, and earn good money for their skills. 

Manukau Institute of Technology lecturer Zane Wedding says the New Zealand Certificate in Horticulture Services (Level 4) in Arboriculture at MIT means you can get qualified in a year. The course includes both the theory and practical work required to enter the industry.

“There’s so much work in arboriculture but it’s really dependent on qualifications. This qualification is your foot in the industry door — and there’s just so much work. Everyone from my course basically leaves with a job.”

You can also get qualified through an apprenticeship, such as through a company like Treescape, although this takes more time.

The course also offers vital cultural context to working with trees, says Zane.

“For young Māori and Polynesian students, what we teach at the course is they become kaitiaki. They’re looking after the trees within our urban environment and that’s something they can really dig. When they first come in, a tree is just a tree to them. But as the course progresses, they start to understand that ‘wow’, this is a living thing. In tikanga Māori, even a tree has mauri (life force).” 

Crossing the finish line:
Get qualified on time

Finishing your apprenticeship means you can stop studying and start enjoying being a qualified tradie – including earning more money and having more job opportunities.

But getting qualified is more of a marathon than a sprint. From your pre-trades course to the end of your apprenticeship you’ll be training for several years, so it’s important to stay motivated along the way.

The exact time it takes depends on your trade, and whether you already have some of the skills you need (like if you’ve worked as a hammerhand). But no matter what your situation, the sooner you get certified, the sooner you can enjoy the benefits. Plus, if you wait too long without progressing, you might need to pay another apprenticeship fee.

Remember, you’re never alone in your training journey – there’s heaps of support to help you get your qualification. So read on for how to ensure you complete your apprenticeship in good time, and what to do when problems come up.

Why get qualified?

It takes work to get your qualification, so it’s important to remember why you’re doing it.

Jodi Franklin from MITO says there are a lot of benefits to getting qualified besides not having to study anymore.

“A lot of things happen when you get qualified. It’s not just a certificate; generally you’re rewarded in the workplace with a pay increase. And the world’s your oyster in terms of being able to take your qualification all over the world. If you want to go and live somewhere else for a change of scenery, you can take your qualification with you.”

On the other hand, if you don’t get qualified, you’ll limit your opportunities and how much you can earn, says Jodi.

“It doesn’t matter how close you get to completing your qualification. Even if you finish 99%, it’s not recognised until you complete it.”

So if you want more money and more mana on the job, and the freedom to take your skills overseas or start your own business, get your certification sorted as soon as you can.

Take away: You need to get qualified to get the benefits from your training, like more money and more job opportunities.
Good timing

When you sign on for an apprenticeship, your training provider (called an Industry Training Organisation, or ITO) will let you know how long it’ll ideally take you to complete your qualification. Depending on your trade, this is usually between 2 years and 4 ½ years of being an apprentice.

But it’s important to know that apprenticeships aren’t just about the hours you spend on site. Instead, you need to show the skills you’ve developed, says Doug Leef from BCITO.

“It’s all about competency. We all learn differently and, as such, progression from person to person differs. A lot of this comes down to the relationships forged on the job site and the quality of training and supervision given to trainees.”

Your employer is responsible for making sure you get the practical training you need during your apprenticeship, says Doug.

“That onus falls on the employer. It’s their responsibility to get trainees qualified. When they sign the apprentice up, we make the employer aware of the scope of work required.”

Take away: Apprentices need to show they have the right practical skills. Your boss is responsible for making sure you learn all the skills you need on the job, but you can help move things along quickly. Have a chat to your boss or ITO training advisor about the skills you need to learn, and make a plan for what you want to get signed off at your next meeting with your training advisor.

Getting qualified is more of a marathon than a sprint.

In theory

But it’s not enough to just show up to work and do what your employer says. As an apprentice, you need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. That’s where theory or book work comes in.

“It can be a bit daunting to have all this theory to learn,” says Doug. “But you’ve got to understand the underpinning theory and the reasons behind why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s not just throwing houses up; it’s about compliance, accountability and administration.”

The biggest challenge for most apprentices is finding time for their theory work on top of working full-time. Depending on your trade and schedule, you might do your theory work during a block course (where you go into a classroom with other trainees on certain days), a night class after working hours, or at home in your spare time.

“It’s about managing your hours,” says Aimee Hutcheson from Skills. “Most apprentices are flat tack as soon as they enter the industry, so they need to work with their employer to fit in time for their theory work.”

To make sure your theory work doesn’t build up and get overwhelming, make time to work on it regularly, says Jodi.

“The most successful apprentices are the ones who get into a routine. It might help to go along to a night class. Otherwise, you need to find that one night where you’re not playing rugby or busy with other commitments. Even just a couple of hours a week makes a big difference. Doing a little bit and often is the key to success.”

Take away: Make time every week to do a bit of your theory work, so you don’t fall behind. When you regularly do work towards your qualification, you know you’re building your skills and getting closer to being a skilled tradie. And remember, you don’t have to do it alone – there’s heaps of support available, so if you need help or have a question, talk to your boss or training advisor.
Needing help – it’s normal

Many trainees feel whakamā (shy or embarrassed) when asking for help. But the truth is, everyone needs help at some point in their training.

Remember, it’s normal to need to ask questions sometimes, and no-one expects you to know everything.

“We’re all embarrassed to ask for help from time to time,” says Doug. “But you need to put your hand up early. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.”

One reason you might need support is if you don’t understand something your tutor says in class. It’s really important to speak up, because no question is a dumb question. Chances are, other students are wondering about the same thing.

“We do have people who have had to resit exams because of the spiral effect of being too shy to ask questions in class,” says Aimee. “Then they’re resitting because they’ve never had the relationship with their tutor to not be whakamā to ask questions and ask for help.”

Having learning differences, like dyslexia, can also mean you need to ask for help. If you’re not sure if that applies to you, don’t worry. Your ITO will do a quick test to see if you’d benefit from help with literacy or numeracy – and there’s plenty of support available.

“You can talk to your employer or tutor if you need help, or your training advisor (from your ITO) is just a phone call away if you have any questions or concerns,” says Aimee.

“You’ve got to build that confidence to be able to ask questions and ask for help if you’re struggling. At the end of the day, we all want you to get through and get qualified, and to feel like you’re achieving as well – to understand what you’re learning, not just check a box.”

Take away: Everyone needs help sometimes, so make sure you speak up if you don’t understand something or are finding anything difficult.
Work worries

At some point during your apprenticeship, you might need to change jobs.

“Some trainees want to change employers because they’re travelling too far for work, or there’s not enough work, or maybe they’re not getting on with people on site,” says Doug. “It’s not the trainee or the employer’s fault – it’s just life.”

It’s okay to change jobs if you need to, but remember that an apprenticeship is an agreement between three parties: you, your employer and your apprenticeship provider. So when you leave your employer, you break the apprenticeship contract and you’ll need to sign another one with your next employer.

Before you change jobs, make sure your new boss is supportive of you doing an apprenticeship, says Jodi.

“You don’t have to stick it out in an employment situation that’s not right for you. And it’s the same if apprentices are laid off because their employer doesn’t have enough work for them or they want experience in other parts of the industry.

“You can change jobs and continue your apprenticeship, if you have the support of your new employer.”

If you’ve already had parts of your apprenticeship signed off and completed, don’t worry. The work you’ve already completed will stay in the system and you can transfer that to your new job.

But remember, changing jobs often takes time, which can delay your progress. For example, your new employer might want you to do a trial for a few months before giving you an apprenticeship. So change jobs if you need to, but don’t do it lightly.

Take away: It’s best to stay with your employer if you can. If you need to change jobs, make sure your new boss wants to give you an apprenticeship.
Need a break?

Sometimes life gets in the way of your learning. If you’re not able to work for a while, then you might be able to take a brief break from your apprenticeship, as long as your boss is on board.

“If you take a short break due to injury, then as long as your employer is aware of it and you’re still employed by the same company, it’s not an issue,” says Doug.

“For example, if you’ve hurt your knee playing rugby and you’re on ACC then we’ll say, ‘This person’s not working; they’re still in their apprenticeship, but their employer and ITO recognise they’re not fit for work’. So we can put your apprenticeship on hold until you can work again.”

But remember, you can’t put your apprenticeship on hold forever. You need to talk to your boss and ITO about why you need a break, and make a plan for when you’ll return.

“Apprenticeships can time out,” says Aimee. “Sometimes you can get an extension, but not by much. If you run out of time, you can be charged a fee because it’s almost like you’re signing up for that year of your apprenticeship again. You can’t just put it on hold indefinitely.”

Take away: If you need a break, talk to your employer and ITO and see if they can support your break from work. Just make sure you don’t leave it too long before you come back to your apprenticeship, because the longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to get back into it – plus you might be charged an extra fee.

Mums in the trades

Having mouths to feed is a powerful motivator to work hard and build a successful career. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we share the stories of three mums building their trades careers, and we look at why hiring parents can be good for business.

The trades industry offers great opportunities for mothers who want a stable and rewarding career.

Mums with trades skills can expect to earn a good living to support their families. There’s a range of well-paid roles available in the growing industry, and statistics show women in the trades get paid the same as men for equal work.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, we look at why employers value parents as part of a trades team, and share the experiences of mums who are working in the industry.

Added motivation

When it comes to needing a great reason to get to work in the morning, having children to support is hard to beat.

Sarah Peraua

Sarah Peraua, who has a seven-year-old son and one-month-old twin boys, says her children help her to be even more driven to succeed in her career.

“It definitely gives me motivation to work harder for my children and my family. I want to set a good example for my kids.”

Sarah’s employer Amon Johnson, director of Complete Build, says hiring parents has advantages for businesses.

“From an employer’s point of view, I find that people who have children are more reliable. Obviously they’ve got to support their children, so their motivation to get to work can be a lot greater than that of people who don’t have children.”

Camille McKewin, mother to six-year-old Madelin, was driven to start her own business after training in the trades. This allowed her to have more control over her schedule and spend more time with her daughter.

Camille McKewen

“That’s the good thing about having your own business. Working for yourself, you don’t have to work nine to five. It’s all on your terms.”

Being flexible

Of course, having children does come with challenges for parents in the trades.

A common issue is that trades jobs can have earlier starting times than the traditional 9am-5pm schedule.

Elaine Pereira, who is married with children aged two and four, needed to negotiate her working hours to allow for dropping her son at daycare in the mornings.

“They let me know the hours they needed me to work, and I told them I needed to talk to my family because a 7.30am start wasn’t going to work for me. My kid’s daycare doesn’t open until 8am, so that’s the earliest I can drop him off, which means I won’t be at work until 8.30.”

Her employer Trucks and Trailers, where Elaine is now working as an apprentice, offered her a job with a slightly later start than usual.

“They just asked whether I’d be able to come in early on the odd occasion if they needed me. And I’m happy to be flexible if they do need me to come in, especially because they’ve been flexible with me. It’s worked out well.”

Amon says all employment relationships require a bit of give and take.

“At the end of the day, that’s life, and you can’t expect a parent with a sick child to come to work. Employers have to be a bit flexible around parenting. I would say a large majority of employers are parents themselves, so they probably have empathy for that.”

The key to managing absent employees comes down to being organised, says Amon, who is a parent of twins.

“As long as the business has strategies to cope with things like sickness or absenteeism due to kids, it’s something that can be managed.

“The rest of the team might have to stay a bit later to meet our deadlines if someone’s away, but everyone understands that. My team is pretty good with picking up the slack if someone has to stay home with a sick child – and their co-workers who are parents do the same thing for them if they happen to be sick, so it’s really just a team thing.”

Finding support

For many mums, whānau support to help care for their children is key to balancing work and family life.

Sarah says her parents have been there to look after her eldest son when she’s needed to work.

“My mum picks up my son after she finishes work so I can continue working until five o’clock. She sometimes takes him to morning school care as well. And if I wanted to work on Saturdays, my parents would both look after him.”

Elaine shares household responsibilities with her husband to ensure she has time for her work and apprenticeship.

“When I need to do my studies he’ll look after the kids, which is fantastic. With cooking dinner, doing the washing and cleaning the house, we share that work.”

Open communication

Elaine says communicating openly with your employer is especially important for parents.

“Just being open when you’re applying for a job, telling them straight-up what things you can and can’t do, and having that open line of communication with my employer really helped me.

“They know that if my kids are sick and I can’t get anyone else to come pick them up, then I’ll have to leave, and they’re really good with that.”

Amon says with good communication, an employer can better plan around any constraints in the employee’s schedule.

“When I hire people I tell them that if they need to pick their child up at a certain time each day, let me know at the beginning so I can fit that into my programme. As long as I know about it, I can make sure I don’t book them to be working at those times.”

He adds that all employees require some flexibility whether they’re parents or not – from sick days to time off for a dentist appointment.

“For example, I’ve got guys here who are Jehovah’s Witnesses who have one day a week off. So I know they are a four-day worker, and I don’t try to take on work for a five-day worker. A lot of it comes down to organisation.”

The business case for hiring parents:

    • Reliable workers:

Parents can have more experience with meeting their obligations and taking their responsibilities seriously. This helps them to be reliable at work, too.

    • Committed employees:

Parents have mouths to feed, so they’ll be motivated to work hard and have stable employment, says Amon Johnson, director of Complete Build. “From a business perspective, I prefer to employ parents because of that motivation and drive.”

    • Provide support:

By hiring parents, you’ll be helping them support their children, says Amon. “From a moral standpoint, I’d like parents to have a job to be able to support their families.”

Trainees rebuild garden after car crash

community project in south auckland
A much-loved community garden that was destroyed by a rogue vehicle has been restored, thanks to a group of MPTT trainees.

RāWiri Community House provides services to the Manurewa community including free drivers licence theory courses, helping people search for jobs and working with homeless people in the area.

Earlier this year, the gardens at the centre were damaged when a car went through the front fence.

Eight MPTT trainees from Manukau Institute of Technology got stuck in to help and made the project their own – with some even making artwork for the fence around the garden.

At MPTT, we encourage all our trainees to get involved with community projects. Not only is it a chance to use their skills – and learn new ones – it adds meaning to their mahi by giving back to the community.

Read more about the RāWiri project on the Stuff website.

Māori and Pasifika Trades Training: Auckland engineering and horticulture students have been working tirelessly today to finish building vege gardens at Rawiri Community House. These gardens will help the team at RaWiri to continue to help feed our communities. Awesome work! #teamwork #mahiwithapurpose Competenz

Posted by Healthy Together – Counties Manukau on Thursday, 26 October 2017

Iani Nemani of Competenz
Iani Nemani from Competenz who helped setup this community project

Louisa Wall at Rāwiri Community House
Louisa Wall with Kirk Sargent at Rāwiri Community House

Linked posts:
Sherya, living our values
Working together as one to achieve

Back to her roots

Camille McKewin’s love of horticulture grew out of fond memories of gardening with her grandfather. She’s now using her skills to build a gardening business that gives her the freedom to spend plenty of time with her young daughter – who in turn is developing a keen interest in plants.

Hearing Camille McKewin talk animatedly about gardening, you’d think she was born with a passion for it.

So it’s not surprising that Camille’s whanau suspect her love of plants is in the genes. After all, her grandfather had a green thumb and tended to the many plants on the family’s property in Green Bay, Auckland.

“We had so many fruit trees – feijoas, guava, grapes, heaps of things,” says Camille, who is Australian Māori. “I really love the memories of that and all it took for my grandfather to maintain it.”

Her grandfather passed away when Camille was nine years old, but her memories of him are still strong.

“I remember being seven and eight years old, following him around the garden, learning heaps and chewing on sugar cane.”

Searching for more

Camille, now 30, tried out a few jobs – such as training to be a chef and working at a childcare centre – before she found her dream career. But when she began studying horticulture and landscaping at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), she knew she’d found her calling.

“I was always searching for more, something more stimulating. Taking up horticulture, I see the world in a whole different way. I look at plants differently, I look at food differently – I look at a lot of things differently that before I would have taken for granted.”

Once she began her training, Camille discovered the horticulture industry is much wider than she’d initially thought – from landscaping and growing plants to Māori medicine and pest control.

“I realised horticulture isn’t just about learning how to grow some potatoes. It actually opens up so many other doors.”

Philip Sutherland, one of Camille’s tutors at MIT, says she showed horticultural flair from the start.

“Camille was always engaged, interested and ready to get involved and get stuck in. She was a bit like a sponge – she just couldn’t get enough knowledge quick enough,” says Philip.

“She was confident in her ability and knowledge and prepared to back herself. That showed strength of character. She has a real can-do, go get ‘em attitude.”

Getting qualified

Camille completed an introduction to horticulture and landscaping (level 2), followed by a level 3 course on the subject. As it happened, those courses were both free.

Although she wanted to go on to complete level 4, Camille couldn’t afford the course fees.

“I’m a solo mum, so at the time I was like, ‘I really don’t want to have a student loan’.”

But then she discovered her fees would be covered by an MPTT scholarship.

“It made a huge difference. I wouldn’t have been able to take level 4 if I hadn’t gotten the scholarship. It helps a lot; it takes a lot of pressure off.”

Hands-on experience

To clock up some experience and get started in the industry, Camille began working while she was studying.

This included tending the gardens at MIT over the holidays and working in neighbourhood gardens with another horticulture student.

“We were both really keen on getting out there and making money, so I was doing garden work with her for low income earners.”

Now that she’s qualified, Camille splits her time between working on these shared projects and growing her own business.

So far, she’s found plenty of work through word-of-mouth and via local website neighbourly.co.nz.

“There are so many people looking for someone to tend to their gardens. Elderly people or those who are unable to get out there really want help in their gardens – especially when you take care in the job you’re doing.”

Family tree

One benefit of working for herself is that Camille can choose to work during school hours, allowing her to spend more time with five-year-old daughter Madelin.

“That’s the good thing about having your own business. Working for yourself, you don’t have to work nine to five. It’s all on your terms.”

Camille McKewan
Like her mum, Madelin is soaking up information about plants and how they grow.

“She’s telling her teachers about it and she thinks she knows everything now about how you plant something and why you plant it,” says Camille.

“She’s obtained some of the knowledge I have, which is great because I think it’s something this next generation really needs to take into consideration. Not many people know much about food and where it comes from. People take it for granted.”

Camille encourages other people with a curiosity about the industry to give it a go.

“We need it more than ever now that the world is changing and to feed the growing population. It’s about the knowledge and know-how of providing for ourselves, our whānau and our future. We need more people in the horticulture industry who are passionate about it.”