Inspired by videos of arborists at work, Chris Conklin took a chance and embarked on an Arboriculture programme. In doing so, he discovered a fulfilling career – and created a successful business.
Arborist and Co-founder of Kea TreeWorks
I’d never done anything like this before I started the programme. It’s really fun – it’s like playing and getting paid to do it!
What inspired you to get into Arboriculture?
Seeing arborists’ videos on YouTube, basically! I stumbled onto them randomly and thought arboriculture looked awesome.
I’d never imagined doing something like that before, but that sort of physical work appealed to me. I never particularly enjoyed any jobs I had indoors.
What had you done previously?
I went to university and got a Bachelor in Psychology, then went overseas to States and travelled for six months.
I came back and did a few odd jobs in security and stuff like that, but I was floundering until I started the course.
How did you find your study experience?
It was awesome – one of the best-run courses I’ve done. It had a great feel to it.
There was a lot of hands-on, practical content and a small theory component on the side, which suited me. We did our practical learning all over Dunedin, and started on smaller trees at first before going up in size from there.
What sorts of things did you learn?
Firstly, safe climbing with ropes and harness. If anyone’s done rock climbing, it’s a little like that. Climbing in three dimensions in a tree is different to climbing a rock face, and there are different techniques we use, but it is pretty similar.
Then we moved on to chainsaws, and it takes a while to learn how to handle a chainsaw up a tree!
Along the way, you’re learning about scientific names of native trees and soil science and stuff like that. That was interesting and has definitely helped me in the job.
How did you get your first Arboriculture job?
Thanks to work experience placements on the course.
My second placement was with Eco Tree Care, and that led on to a permanent job straight out of the gate when I finished studying. That was awesome.
Now that my business partner, Jack Vaughan, and I have our own business – Kea Treeworks – we take on Otago Polytechnic students for work experience, which is lots of fun.
How did you two come to start Kea Treeworks?
Jack and I worked together at Eco Tree Care and later at Whitestone Contracting in Oamaru.
In 2017, we decided to set up our own business. We got ourselves a very average truck and a second-hand chipper, and Kea Treeworks started from there!
We almost did it a bit earlier but we decided to wait until we could get enough money to start it properly. Whitestone was one of two employers who really helped me to develop an understanding of business – the other was Dogwood Loggers and Contractors. Both were really supportive.
And how’s business going?
Business is going well! It’s better than we ever imagined and that’s really rewarding.
We started off pretty slow and didn’t have much work booked up at any one time. Now, we’re busier and applying for bigger contracts. We also recently became Dunedin City Council-approved which opens up more opportunities.
The business side of things can be a bit stressful sometimes, but as a partnership it’s so much easier because we can share the load between the two of us. I don’t know that I’d want to do it alone.
What are your aspirations for the business?
Making enough to pay back our business loans is basically the target for now. We don’t have any plans for world domination.
That said, we’ve lucked our way to where we are now, so you just never know!
They've made it theirs - now make it yours!
Work outdoors and enjoy a hands-on, physical job. Arborists are in demand for their ability to care for, and maintain, trees. This industry-standard qualification provides learners with the knowledge and skills to carry out tree maintenance and management activities at heights including tree removal. Plus, this programme is free for domestic students due to the Government's Targeted Training and Apprenticeship Fund (TTAF) (although you'll need to pay for any additional course-related and living costs). Graduates of this programme will receive both the New Zealand Certificate in Horticulture (Level 3) (Arboriculture) and New Zealand Certificate in Horticulture Services (Level 4) (Arboriculture).