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Part in redeployment chance to give back

Paul Brown had to really do some juggling to line everything up when he signed his company Advanced Tree Solutions (ATS) on to be part of the Tairawhiti Economic Support Package Redeployment Programme.

At the top of the list was health and safety, which meant the right training processes in place, strong supervision and his own team keen to be part of it all.

ATS took on 21 redeployed workers across two of the five programme projects — the removal of hazardous trees from power lines with Eastland Group, and the removal of hazardous trees from local roads with Gisborne District Council.

Now, as things wind down, four from the programme have been taken on as level 3 arboriculture apprentices with ATS, with a fifth working in traffic control.

Paul sees it as a way of giving back to the community.

“We all owe a little bit to the region as a whole and our business is very much a part of that,” he said.

“There is definitely a place for this in our community. Some of the people involved just haven't had the chance or opportunity to get work. Some lack that self-confidence but we have seen some real success stories. It is lots of warm fuzzies but someone has done just that for us somewhere over time, so it is humanity really. It is so worth doing this. If nothing else it has made people happy and got them through a reasonable amount of skills.”

The skills he speaks of include driver licences, wheels, tracks and rollers courses, first aid, chainsaw handling, maintenance checks and so much more.

“Originally it was going to be running ex-forestry guys and that would have been easy,” Paul said.

“We'd just put in a few supervisors around the power lines, but then forestry all went back to work and it changed things a lot. The training and responsibility level was a lot higher and we were generally dealing with people who had no experience.”

He had great support from Eastland Group and was extremely comfortable with his team and their skills. With three internal trainers Paul knew he could invest the necessary training time in the newbies.

“It was all about safety and getting them up to speed without worrying about how quickly things were getting done.”

The ATS team changed their training approach and management style to make it easier for the new employees to learn.

“Some had a few challenges but we try to cater to them too. As long as they are willing to turn up at work, then we do our side,” Paul said.

“We're a bit of an eclectic bunch these days.”

He was very proud of his employees who stepped up to help train and mentor the new workers.

“I would definitely do it all over again. To see what has come out of this is cool. They've turned into a reasonable crew and I do feel a bit sad as we approach that last day of the programme. There has been a lot of personal growth with our own fellas too . . . we have refined our systems and got a lot smarter about things. This has made the company grow.”

When he started his company around five years ago his goal was to run a small crew and make enough money to pay for his groceries. These days he is one of Eastland Network's preferred tree cutting contractors but also has his teams in civil construction work.

Before Covid his team comprised 17 full-time workers which dropped to 12 as the pandemic took hold. He borrowed money to keep things afloat and says while they weathered the first wave, he's not sure they could have gone on much longer.

He's hoping his investment in his apprentices will come back around.

“I figure if they do move on, you have given them a base. Some of these guys are so young that they should go off and do their own thing. Hopefully when they come back, we will be the ones they call.”

Eastland Group business development general manager Alice Pettigrew said the TRP had been a great example of regional collaboration supported by Government funding.

“The positive impacts are far-reaching and long term.

“With their on-the-job training, work experience and new qualifications, participants are more employable than ever. This is reflected in the number who have already secured fulltime employment or apprenticeships. At the same time, local businesses are growing and creating new jobs, which is good news for the region's economy.”

The $23.755m Redeployment Programme is funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, administered by the Provincial Development Unit and managed by Gisborne District Council. All those on the programme come through the Ministry of Social Development. So far 236 people have been redeployed across the programme, exceeding the initial goal of 220.

Ready for work: Advanced Tree Solutions owner Paul Brown (second from right) with his new apprentices Jerrica Larby, Lokin Moeau and Oliver Coutts with Jessica Te Huia who is training in traffic control. Picture by The Black Balloon