As the nation grapples with a skills shortage of arborists, Armidale’s John Forsythe has taken matters into his own hands and is learning arboriculture skills at the tender age of 64 through TAFE NSW.
Arboriculture Australia, the national peak body representing the industry, describes the current skills shortage as "critical" while a Department of Education, Skills and Employment occupation report reveals only 15% of job vacancies are filled.
John is on the cusp of retirement after a varied career as a rural farmer, computerised fitter and machiner, metallogenic cartographer, and design planner for the NSW health service. He enrolled in the Certificate III in Arboriculture to help manage his 23-acre property and as well as giving himself the option for a well-paying side hustle.
“I currently sit in an office all day doing architectural plans but at home I have numerous trees that need attention,” John said.
“In recent years, I’ve been helping neighbours and friends felling dead trees which didn’t survive the drought and doing some climbing for tree pruning, but it’s inherently dangerous work and I wanted expert advice. I had a lot of chainsaw experience – my grandfather was a sawmiller and I’ve spent a lifetime working on a farm – but I joined TAFE NSW to learn the proper techniques and I was interested in understanding how to better care for trees.”
John has been undertaking theory components of the course online due to COVID-19 and travelling to Sydney when possible for block training at the world-class horticultural college at TAFE NSW Ryde.
“The knowledge of the TAFE NSW teachers never ceases to astound me,” John said.
“We’ve gone from the basics to advanced in both theory and practical techniques, and it’s taken me on a journey covering more than I ever expected. I take my hat off to all the TAFE NSW teachers – their dedication, their individual knowledge, and their combined expertise is amazing.”
He said the class worked on trees in Centennial Park last year and earlier this year on big Sydney blue gums at the Ryde college.
“Working at heights is challenging and you have to have your wits about you. The TAFE NSW team are experts at pushing us beyond our comfort zone, but safely," he said.
John said as well as giving him the skills to earn good pocket money once he leaves his day job, the team at TAFE NSW Ryde has taught him to see and value trees in a way he never had before.
“I look around Armidale now, and I understand the value of maintaining healthy parks and public spaces. It’s better for us as a community, and for our wildlife and environment, if we can protect our trees and keep them in the ground, rather than removing them,” he said.
TAFE NSW’s horticultural college enjoys a decades-old partnership maintaining some of Sydney’s most cherished public spaces, including the Royal Botanic Garden, the heritage-listed Rookwood Cemetery, Centennial Park, and the grounds of many major hospitals and institutions.
Head Teacher of Arboriculture at TAFE NSW Ryde, John Douglas, said the partnership gives students like John the opportunity to grow their skills in some of the city’s most magnificent parks and gardens, embedding a deep sense of responsibility as they help shape Sydney’s green spaces.
“The city gets the tree work done for free while we have a perfect training ground for our students. It’s a wonderful symbiotic relationship,” Mr Douglas said.
“The students work on trees in places that are incredibly special to the people of Sydney, so they take pride in the work, and it helps build their skills, knowledge, and respect for the job.”
Explore hundreds of courses and pursue your passion with life-changing training at TAFE NSW. For more information visit www.tafensw.edu.au or phone 131 601.
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