Graduation day for predator-free apprentices

7:27 pm on 22 December 2022
Predator free apprentice Simon Lamb with a shearwater on Ohinau Island.

Predator free apprentice Simon Lamb with a shearwater on Ohinau Island. Photo: Supplied / Dan Burgin

The first cohort of an apprenticeship programme aimed at ridding Aotearoa of pests and boosting the conservation workforce have started graduating.

The two-year programme kicked off in 2020 and is funded by Jobs for Nature.

About 12 people graduate before Christmas with roughly 30 finishing before mid next year.

One of them is Simon Lamb, who did his apprenticeship at Wildlife Management International in Blenheim, and recently graduated as an ecologist with a job in the same company.

"The apprenticeship has allowed me to get my foot in the door to some of these on-the-ground projects.

"Coming from working in Dunedin from a zoology background, I still wanted to work with animals in a scientific capacity.

"But I guess it's also changed my focus to not just the science, but using science to aid conservation."

The apprenticeship had taken Lamb to the remote Ohinau Island off the Coromandel where he studied the demographics of the flesh-footed shearwater and a similar study on black petrels off Great Barrier Island.

"The fauna is mostly intact there and it's basically another world. Through these opportunities, the apprenticeship has left me with quite a profound reflection of the state of New Zealand conservation," he said.

"Seeing first-hand the conservation plight of many of our species, that's been quite a big component of my time working as an apprentice.

"I appreciate how on the brink some of our species (are), that's been quite mind-blowing experience."

Predator Free New Zealand Trust chief executive Jessi Morgan said there were projects around the country that needed these skilled workers.

"It's just so great to see these young people gaining the skills that we're going to need to achieve the predator-free vision and what's been really heartening with this programme is that so many of the host organisations that have had these apprentices have actually taken them on into full time roles post their graduation.

"I think it's really important for young people to be able to see a career path into a sector and seeing that they can start as field operators and there is a progression into project leaders and team leaders."

About 65 people are expected to graduate by the programme's planned end date in June 2024.

"We've really realised that we need to grow the capability and capacity of the predator-free sector in general so encouraging and fostering these people into the sector and giving them that career pathway has been really successful."

Wildlife Management International has five apprentices with two recently graduating.

Managing director Biz Bell is delighted both graduates have taken jobs with the company.

"The scheme's been fantastic.

"I mean it's basically given us the opportunity to help mentor and train some young people who are super enthusiastic about both conservation in New Zealand and predator control, and for us, particularly more ecological scope."

They taught their apprentices a range of skills.

"Because we're an ecological firm, we do a range of projects.

"Everything from predator control to island restoration to monitoring endangered birds on braided rivers or seabirds on islands ... so they've had to learn the whole scope of our business and we wanted to share to be able to become really well-rounded ecologists."

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