Alex Harrison wasn’t really sure where he was going in life. With Dyslexia and ADHD, he didn’t enjoy school and left as soon as he turned 15. But a youth education programme introduced him to plants, and he’s never looked back.
Alex enrolled to study Horticulture at Otago Polytechnic in 2015. His partner was about to have a baby, and he was nervous about the study, but he was determined to make something of himself. “It was awesome when I found out I’d been accepted. I didn’t miss a day because it was such a good experience to actually enjoy learning” he says.
When Alex talks about landscaping, his excitement is palpable. “I didn’t even think I’d be able to pronounce plant names, and now I can actually identify whole varieties!”.
A week before graduation, Alex was offered employment with Paul Ashford Landscaping. “It’s an amazing job. Once I’ve finished a project I can stand back and say ‘I did that’!”
Alex says his studies at Otago Polytechnic have really helped. “Everything I learnt there, I apply to my job every day.” He has some sound advice for anyone wanting to further their education, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are so many people there to help, I used them all!”
Read more about the National Certificate in Horticulture (Level 4) Landscape Construction.
I’d never done any study before, but I really enjoyed the classes, and actually found it really easy
It was a big step for Anika Jackson to sign up at Otago Polytechnic. “I was bored and felt like I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what. I’d never done any study before, but I really enjoyed the classes, and actually found it really easy”
The stay-at-home mother enjoyed growing vegetables and loves using her hands, so horticulture was the obvious choice. “I need to be active and outside. I never saw myself at University, there was too much classroom time. Otago Polytechnic offered me a good balance … I never had to sit too long!”
Anika studied the National Certificate in Horticulture (Level 4) with a focus on sustainable horticulture. She then came back for a second year and completed her landscape studies with a National Certificate in Horticulture (Advanced) (Level 4).
A month before graduation, she found employment with Delta, and is now their main gardener along the Ravensbourne - Aramoana Highway. “I look after everything from sports fields to playgrounds and planting of roadside plots. There’s a real freedom of choice of where I get to work and what I’m going to do each day.”
Anika’s delighted with new equipment she’s received. “I got a blower this year, which is so much more convenient, and I helped design the cage on the back of my brand new ute.” Her favourite part of the job though, is meeting people. “Getting out and talking with locals is the best. They ask for gardening advice, it’s great getting to know them” she says.
Anika says her studies apply directly to her role with Delta. “Otago Polytechnic covered a broad spectrum of knowledge. I haven’t had to learn a lot for my job, just extend my skills. I’d definitely recommend the programme to anyone!”
I’ve made it into the national climbing competitions in October, and I’m really stoked.
Chelsea Robertson has been reaching great heights, since enrolling in the National Certificate in Horticulture (Arboriculture) (Level 4). She has found learning to climb amazing, and really enjoys working outdoors in different environments. “Every day has been different, with new locations, and the chance to learn new skills,” says Chelsea.
Chelsea completed a Bachelor of Education in Auckland, and worked for five years as a teacher, before moving to Dunedin to study the National Certificate in Horticulture (Level 4) Sustainable Horticulture. After completing that qualification and being shown a PowerPoint slide on Arboriculture at the Open Day, she was keen to further her studies. “I was taken right away with how physical it looked; getting to work outside climbing and using chainsaws looked fantastic!”
Now part way through her Arboriculture course, Chelsea is finding it challenging – but very rewarding. “It’s a physically demanding job, so learning to take care of myself has been important,” she says.
After entering the South Island regional tree climbing competition earlier this year, Chelsea has qualified for the National competition which will be held in Nelson in October. The competition will involve five events, all with time limits and points to score including for speed climb, foot lock, work climb, throwline and aerial rescue.
Chelsea is grateful for the support of Otago Polytechnic staff, and is looking forward to a bright future. “Arborists are in high demand around the world, so I hope to travel with my new skills one day.”