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James grows a thriving career

James Newham is sewing the seeds of success, gaining employment as a team leader fresh from his graduation.

The first group of students to study horticulture at TAFE Queensland’s Bundaberg campus since it was reintroduced 12 months ago have graduated, with several already using their new skills to secure employment.

It comes after the Certificate III in Horticulture (AHC30716) and Certificate III in Conservation and Ecosystem Management (AHC31420) were offered at the campus in 2021 for the first time in six years in response to growing industry demand for qualified workers.

James Newham is among the local students who completed the dual qualification in December 2021. Having worked in the construction industry since he was 16, with the last 16 years spent in a high-level position, James said he was seeking a change of scenery when the opportunity to enrol in the new program arose.

“I’ve always loved gardening and had an appreciation of the natural environment, so when the course became available, I jumped at it,” James said.

“I was concerned because I hadn’t been in a classroom for a long time and at my age, I was worried about how that would be. But I wasn’t alone — there were a few others studying who were in similar place and it has completely changed my life.”

“I can’t speak highly enough of Jos [his teacher], and the great group of people I met through the course — some who I think I’ll be friends with for life.”

After graduating in December 2021, the passionate 49 year old has since secured a position as the Wide Bay Team Leader for Ground Maintenance for CMBM Facility Services. James credits his qualifications with helping him land the job and says it’s an incredibly rewarding role in which he oversees the care of gardens in aged care facilities and private residences across the region.

“I love that I have the ability to correct poor practices of the past and make trees and plants healthy again. I can actually see the improvement each time I visit,” James said.

“I always wanted to do something that gave back to the community, and I feel like what I do now is just that. Not only do I get to work in some beautiful places, but I get to build on what they already have and help improve it, sustain it and make it better.”

“I also love encouraging the residents to participate and involving them in the beautification of where they live. I want to share the knowledge I’ve got and help protect the environment for the future. A lot of elderly people can’t physically go out and do all the things what they want to do, but this role allows me to work with them and help them achieve what they want from their garden — it’s incredibly rewarding.”

According to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, jobs for horticultural trades workers are projected to increase by 7.6 per cent nationwide between 2020 to 2025. The demand is particularly strong in the Wide Bay area, with the region responsible for 12 per cent of the total gross value of agricultural production in Queensland in 2018-19 – a figure that has reportedly remained unaffected by the pandemic.

TAFE Queensland horticulture teacher Jos Abdiel said the interest in horticulture has resulted in the Bundaberg campus being able to expand its offerings even further, with traineeships in agriculture and production horticulture, apprenticeships in nursery operations, and an entry-level rural operations course.

“Bundaberg has such a thriving agricultural and horticultural sector, and TAFE Queensland is committed to providing locals with the skills they need to make the most of the opportunities available to them while fulfilling the requirements of industry,” Jos said.

“As evidenced by our students and their outcomes, these courses are not just for residents wanting to enter the industry — they are an opportunity for people already working within the sector to grow and develop their knowledge and skills so they can advance their careers.”