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President of VTIO Leading The Way

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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.”

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

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