Industry People

President of VTIO Leading The Way

Shane Hall is a voice worth listening to in the ever-changing arboriculture industry.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty,” Henry Ford once said. We’re often reminded about the importance of continued learning and skills development, but many of us neglect to “better ourselves” due to being too busy and, let’s be honest, the belief that we know enough all ready to do the job right.

The arboriculture industry has developed massively in recent decades, however, and those working in it should strive to evolve to reflect how the industry has matured. These are the thoughts of Shane Hall, well known as President of the VTIO (Victorian Tree Industry Organisation), senior investigations arborist at Bayside City Council in Victoria and, from 2011-2013, Chairperson of Council Arboriculture Victoria (CAV), a networking body for tree workers employed by Local Government.

“There have been significant changes in arboricultural practices in the last 15 years or so,” he says. “We’re continuing to see significant advances in climbing techniques and equipment. There’s a lot of tired old bodies out there with busted shoulders that would have loved to have started using the kind of gear being used now.”

Shane’s a man with a wealth of experience and champions professional development, collaborative learning, respect for your peers in the industry and getting involved with industry organisations, such as the VTIO.

It’s easy to neglect such things, but those hoping to thrive in a rapidly-changing industry will surely benefit from Shane’s advice. “Having a strong industry organisation in your regional area is really important for the professional development of people there,” he explains. “Strong organisations come from having people putting time into it, so even if you’re only going to do it for a short period or on an infrequent basis, stepping up and giving your time is going to be appreciated. And you can learn a lot. Your professional development will increase, it’s a great networking opportunity and a great way to improve your business practices and activities.”

Shane’s seen all aspects of the arb industry from one end to the other, starting out as a casual labourer for a mate with a tree cutting company, right through to his influential roles at council and VTIO. His early career saw him ultimately being told he “needed to get a piece of paper” to keep working, so in 2004 finished a Cert IV in horticulture (arboriculture), finished his Cert V the following year and transitioned into consultancy in 2006. He was working for local government by 2007, became vice president of VTIO in 2011 and president in 2013, before attaining a graduate certificate in arboriculture in 2014.

Certificates in frames are one thing, but Shane’s taken his learnings, and now in his numerous positions works hard to advocate greater professionalism in the industry. “I’m keen on increasing the industry standard,” he says. “We’re a legitimate industry, and legitimate industry needs professional development. You can’t go to school one day and then not learn anything for the next 30 years. We need to keep ourselves up to date with current information, so professional development days and distribution of information is vitally important.”

So how is this done? The VTIO is a not-for-profit organization run by volunteers for Victorian tree workers. It runs professional development days, including Arbor Camp, works closely with registered training organizations, and also TAFE to encourage students to attend. In addition, it runs the Victorian Tree Climbing Championship, a feeder to the Nationals.

The Arbor Camp is particularly interesting, a weekend-long event where industry colleagues get together to talk about things in a relaxed atmosphere and hear from experts across different job roles. Key for the next generation of arborists, the Thursday before the main event is for students only, with costs covered by the VTIO. Looking at last year’s event, experts were on hand to discuss things like soil science, technology in arboriculture, exercises for tree workers, the latest arb gear, creating artificial hollows and bolting trees. A chat with Australian Tree Climbing Champion Rebecca Barnes also added to the occasion.

Shane says the camaraderie at Arbor Camp and development days is akin to climbing competitions, ideal for morale and shared learning. He is very conscious of the importance of such things in any industry, as well as some of the more complex issues that are being addressed more in society as a whole. Mental health and gender equality being prime examples.

“Having a strong industry organization in your regional area is really important for the professional development of people there.”

“As an industry, it’s something we need to talk about more,” Shane says. “I’ve been encouraging people to be aware of and engage with people in the industry for mental health. We promote the R U OK? Day, wellbeing documents, and let’s face it, me posting a couple of social media posts every now and then isn’t a load of work. We want people to have conversations about this, so us putting the phone number of somebody useful out there is obvious. Our industry is like a lot of others, especially male-dominated ones, where there are higher rates of suicide amongst people involved.”

Acknowledging International Women’s Day, Elimination of Violence against Women Day and Movember all show progressive steps, alongside key aspects relevant to arb life such as information from a physiotherapist about exercises to look after the body while at work, skills for climbing and professional writing classes for consultants.

These are very positive signs. They show an industry taking itself very seriously as it expands. “The industry as a whole around the world is growing up,” Shane says. “People are putting time and energy into designing better workplace practices and equipment that’s better for the individual. We’re continuing to mature, but there’s still a lot of opinion in arboriculture. It’s always been part art, part science, but we need to reduce the amount of art and increase science. We need to back opinion up with actual physical evidence to support that point of view.”

An industry that takes itself seriously is bound to be taken more seriously by others, be that private business, councils, governments or the man in the street. “I’ve always seen training, gaining skills and knowledge and professional development as core functions,” Shane says. “And be respectful of all people in the industry. We’re a whole community.” Wise words indeed.

Wrapping up our interview, Shane’s thoughts went to two members of this community: “As President of VTIO I would like to take this opportunity to pay our respects to two people that have greatly influenced the skill development of many arborists in Victoria. The recent sad news of the passing of Clive Sorrell was quickly followed by that of Leigh Stone. Both will be missed.”

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78. Donations in support of Beyond Blue will be greatly appreciated.

For more information on VTIO visit http://vtio.org.au

July 10, 2019 / by / in ,
Outside Of The Box

Imagine being roped up halfway down landslide-ravaged batters, cutting out 4-ton rootballs with a high-pressure water knife.

Sometimes on a job site you can face uncharted hurdles that require some improvised and inventive solutions. Arborist Campbell Brooke runs PowerClear where they specialise in large-scale work in the utility, local government and construction sectors.

A recent clean-up project of a cyclone-devastated stretch on the Gold Coast saw his crews tackle some particularly precarious situations which called for some creative thinking.

Since being established 15 years ago, PowerClear has grown to become much more than your standard tree service company. Now running up to 70 full-time staff and boasting over 130 heavy pieces of machinery in their fleet, they focus on big projects and can offer a full suite of services to their clients all over Australia. So whether it be general arbor work, tree surgery, stump grinding, landscaping, planting, watering, fencing, turfing, maintenance, right through to large-scale clearing, vegetation management, hard-access removals, sensitive transplanting and even concreting footpaths and curbs, PowerClear can do it all. It’s not only satisfying for the company to see a job all the way through, it’s also easier to manage and more reassuring for the client.

“We do the whole lot, start to finish with our own staff,” reiterated Campbell. “By doing it all in-house we can maintain a quality service that we can control. That’s what we’ve been able to offer our clients now – that holistic approach. This has just been developed over time and that’s one reason we’ve been so successful in the council work; we’re able to self perform everything.”

This holistic approach is further exemplified with PowerClear’s strong regeneration and planting drives and their sustainable use of the timber they collect.

“So the trees we remove, we then mill them,” continued Campbell, “so anything that’s salvageable for construction timber or furniture doesn’t go to waste. And then if it’s not good enough grade, we turn them into tree stakes and use them to plant new trees. We do thousands of them a year. It’s just renewable and it just makes sense.”

Even though he manages the whole business as the company Director, Campbell is an arborist first and foremost, through and through. He still gets on the tools to give the fellas a hand. At the same time, he also gives major credit to his highly professional staff.

“The guys we’ve got on board are really knowledgeable and from various backgrounds,” he affirmed, “and then we also put them through their arboriculture certification as well. We’ve got a lot of staff with experience, not only with trees but also all the civil stuff. We run a really small management structure. Underneath that are the crews and each crew has a leading hand. Actually, on a lot of our crews we’ve got several lead hands with a lot of guys that are just as experienced as each other.”

With a long history in the game and through his heavy involvement in the multitude of interesting and complex projects that PowerClear undertakes, Campbell has seen his fair share of crazy things. Still to this day he’s surprised, and excited, by the different jobs he continually encounters. The aftermath and clean-up of severe tropical cyclone Debbie in 2017 saw he and his team face new challenges that required some thinking outside of the box.

One of the deadliest storms to hit the South East Coast of Australia in recent times, cyclone Debbie resulted in 14 deaths and caused $1.7 billion in damages, primarily as a result of extreme flooding. Campbell remembered it “like an apocalypse had gone through and just completely wiped everything out”. It was a busy time for PowerClear who were contracted for several clear and repair operations.

“Because of the huge rain dump trees were down and there were landslides everywhere,” recalled Campbell. “There were proper, full-on, big slips. We started off by doing a lot of the civil stuff; cleaning up all the slips with the excavators and skid steer loaders and tippers. We had four 30-ton excavators and a 20-ton long reach just to clear the roads.”

Once they were able to open the roads back up, the flow-on work after that lasted for almost a year. They were tested with some painstakingly difficult tasks in hard-to-access disaster zones. Attacking one matted mess at a time, they wouldn’t just hit a snag, they would hit a mountain of snags all tangled together.

“We did some really interesting work with some gnarly trees where the batters had slipped. There was a lot of high-to-access work where we were removing the trees, and then also a lot of rock scaling, so getting big boulders that were loose off these unstable batters so crews could come in and start to excavate underneath. It was something we had some experience in, but not to that scale.”

At the same time, Campbell had other crews working further inland at Lamington National Park where the cyclone had decimated the pristine rainforest. “We did a heap of crazy winching and really remote stuff where these walking tracks were just completely blocked. We had to uncover them with manual winching and get all the rootballs, rocks and trees out of the way. And then we had to move it all away from the tracks. A lot of that stuff was over cliffs and through some gnarly terrain.”

“We decided to get the guys to use the water knife unit to actually cut the rootballs off the batters.”

It was during the perilous clean-up that Campbell and his team came up with a unique solution to a tricky problem. Some of the situations saw car-sized rootballs of trees overhanging off the slippery slope of the batters. They had to work out how to get them down without damaging the surroundings or getting things more tangled.

“So we’d go in and take the trees out, but there would still be the massive rootballs left there,” explained Campbell. “We’re talking 4-ton rootballs and there was no way of getting any machinery to them. So we decided to get the guys to use the water knife unit to actually cut the rootballs off the batters. They were roped up, 20 to 30 meters up the batters, and they had to cut the rootballs out and then winch them down to the road below. That was something really different. We did it on six or seven different sites. You couldn’t have done it any other way.”

“That would be one of the more interesting jobs where we had a piece of equipment we used for something completely different.”

Even though it was somewhat of an experiment, it worked very effectively; like a surgeon removing a giant tumour. They used a DenJet water knife; a stand-alone unit with a 4-cylinder diesel engine that can go up to 9000 psi.

“It’s like a huge, high-volume, high- pressure gurney,” Campbell described it. “It will cut through just about anything. It’s a very dangerous bit of equipment and you’ve got to wear Kevlar boots, Kevlar pants, the whole lot. We normally use it on flat ground.

“That would be one of the more interesting jobs where we had a piece of equipment we used for something completely different.”

So successful was this original technique that PowerClear continues to use it. When they needed to transplant some big cycads from the side of cliffs at Springbrook they went up on a boom lift to neatly cut them out, again using the water jet knife.

Even after all these years Campbell knows there’s always something new around the corner. Like many, that’s what he loves about the job.

Call PowerClear (07) 5568 0541

For more information about PowerClear go to http://powerclear.com.au

May 13, 2019 / by / in
Value Packed With Key for Treeincarnation’s

Sustainability and sticking to values are key for Treeincarnation’s success and growth.

To run a successful business you have to be in touch with customer needs and expectations. Some aspects never change. We all want a high quality of work, diligence, punctuality and value. The modern world has a few more expectations too, with sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint increasingly at the forefront of clients’ minds.

Why should the tree industry be any different? If a customer has the choice between firms and only one has a sustainability ethos, in today’s informed times, plenty will most likely pick the more eco-aware business.

Talking to Nick Peardon, owner of Treeincarnation in Melbourne’s Malvern East, it’s clear his drive to have a 100 per cent sustainable arborist firm has reaped rewards. Aged only 27, he fronts a team of seven carrying out tree removal, pruning and arborist reports predominantly for private clients. “We aim to be genuine, to be fun, to be the best,” he explains, while sticking rigidly to the company’s core values and focusing on having a growth approach where learning is key.

The mission, a noble one, is to make tree removal less wasteful in Melbourne. Once a tree is removed or pruned the wood is up-cycled for furniture to give the tree “a second life,” rather than just used as firewood or mulch. Highlighting the variety of work, besides more typical furniture jobs, the team is currently putting together a coffin with timber from a removed tree.

“What makes us different is what we predominantly do with the by-product of tree related services,” Nick said. “As much of the timber gets up-cycled as practically possible and the mulch goes to a soil farm. So rather than it just being spread around a garden it’s actually used and decomposed in a perm cultural process in the most efficient and sustainable way.”

Most would agree that minimising waste is for the greater good, but is it always practical in the real world of work? “The majority of comments and questions are on the logistics side of it,” Nick explained. “If another tree company becomes familiar with what we do and asks questions we point them in the right direction, like connecting them with a timber up-cycler for instance. We’re an advocate of other companies jumping on to collectively minimise waste.”

It’s commendable that Nick and his team aren’t only thinking about growing their own business, but being part of and inspiring others to look at the arb industry a bit differently for the common good. “We’re not going to significantly minimise waste if it’s just us,” he said. “A rising tide lifts all ships.”

It’s obvious Nick is a clear and impressive thinker with noble values and a strong business brain. And his concepts haven’t just been dreamed up in a classroom with his head in a book. He grew up on a farm– his mother had a poplar nursery and his father a sawmill – and had labourer roles at arborist firms before deciding to strike out on his own. “I saw there was opportunity in the industry to do things a little differently,” he explained.

With a Cert III in arboriculture and mainly working as a contractor, Nick “started to identify there was a gap in the market as some customer needs were not really being serviced or touched on,” he said. “This wasn’t about the actual work that was being done, but around the way the businesses were conducting themselves.”

This takes us back to good old-fashioned work practices, something Nick identifies as core to attracting and maintaining customers. “Simple things like rocking up to a quote on time,” he said. “Just sticking to your commitments really. Pretty much every business I worked for or with were dropping the ball majorly on that one. The whole customer journey and specifically communicating what was going on and when they can expect the problems to be solved.”

Nick was doing his own work on weekends and getting called back time and again for more work, citing his attention to detail as key. “It’s one thing to be an arborist, but it’s a completely different thing to run a business,” he explained. “A lot of companies have ‘values’ but it can just be writing on walls. Having values is one thing, it’s another thing to live in and have your standards align with your values.”

So Treeincarnation was formed with its own core values. Safety is the priority; be outcome orientated; be a team player, be ‘Wow’; have fun; take initiative; have a growth approach. Having such defined values makes it clear all working at the company are swimming in the same direction. “Culture is very much aligned with safety, and as we work in the third most dangerous job in the country (behind commercial fishing and mining) if we focus on the culture, workplace incidents are going to be significantly reduced,” Nick said.

The fun aspect is championed, which is refreshing at a time when so many people seem trapped in jobs they don’t enjoy. “What’s the point if you can’t have fun,” Nick said. This is exemplified with him naming his ‘Be Wow” value ‘The Owen Wilson Factor’. The actor is famous for his use of the word “woooow” and Nick wants to produce the same reaction from clients. This means exceeding expectations in every area; not just the job itself, but presentation and also providing a perfect clean-up after work is done.

Nick hopes other businesses will follow Treeincarnation’s sustainability drive, but says if others aren’t open to recycling more waste then “the onus is on us to get bigger, get more work and make more of a difference ourselves,” he said. “When we’ve taken on new recruits they’ve been impressed that we genuinely live up to our values. We’d love to see more arborists out there working for genuinely solid companies.”

If the phone keeps ringing and jobs keep coming in, a company must be doing something right, and clearly Nick’s focus on sustainability and sticking to his values is proving successful. Unselfishly, he wants other Australian arborists to follow suit and enjoy the benefits too.

“Having values is one thing, it’s another thing to live in and have your standards align with your values.”

For more information visit www.treeincarnation.com.au

March 4, 2019 / by / in