TEAM MEMBER STORIES – MIKE WICKS
If you ask Mike Wicks why he loves working in the tree industry, he’ll tell you it’s the epic views that unfold when you’re in the canopy of a tree. And Mike’s seen more of those views than many.
An accomplished climber, Mike started in the tree industry in his late teens over a decade ago, in a career he says gave him purpose and the ability to travel the world.
Originally from the UK, Mike cut trees in England, across New Zealand, and in Sweden, before settling in Australia four years ago as a commercial climber for Active Tree Services.
“My favourite place has always been Australia and I knew when I got here this was where I wanted to live,” he explains.
Mike currently works for NSW Commercial, cutting trees on major contracts like Sydney Trains.
It’s a far cry from the blizzards of Sweden or the rain of the UK, and it’s a job he clearly loves.
“He notes Australian trees are a bit like the people, they’re rugged and they’re tough. Unlike the light wood of Sweden or the rain affected trees of the UK, Australian trees are heavy and they’re resilient.”
When you’re cutting, they take a bit more wrangling, require a little more stamina and hang on with determination right until the last minute, Mike notes.
But in Mike those hardy trees have more than met their match. He’s far from the type of person to shy away from a challenge.
Like 43 per cent of Australian adults, Mike has struggled with literacy, and it’s been a long and tough battle.
Due to a genetic disorder discovered in childhood, he never learned to read or write. Even into his late 20s he had never read a book, a newspaper or even a long Facebook post.
School was a nightmare, and he left at 14, but Mike says the stigma of that literacy struggle is something he’s grappled with ever since. It’s also something he’s never tried to hide.
Mike notes he’s always been upfront with employers that reading and writing are a challenge. Instead, he lets his skills and experience speak for themselves.
Those skills and that vast experience were more than enough to secure Mike a job at Active, but two years into his time with the company his manager reached out to see if there was a way they could assist.
“Ops Manager, Byron Hobbs saw that I was struggling,” Mike explains.
“He said he didn’t know how I’d managed to do what I have and spoke to HR about getting some lessons.”
Ultimately that would lead to a life changing literacy program captured as part of the three-part SBS series ‘Lost for Words’.
Mike was invited to be part of the documentary after working with literacy teacher Adam Nobilia for about six months.
In the series, Mike and seven other adults who struggle with reading and writing undertake an intensive nine-week literacy program in a bid to improve their skills and transform their lives.
It’s raw, emotional and offers a down-to-earth insight into what it’s like to find reading a challenge and how that impacts so many areas of life.
It’s also incredibly empowering, with each student setting a goal they want to achieve as part of the program.
For Mike, his aim was to read a menu aloud in a restaurant and order on behalf of his fiancée, Rachel.
And he did, along with gaining a whole level of additional literacy skills.
Mike says the experience of filming the documentary was incredibly rewarding, allowing him to not only improve his reading but address the issue head-on.
“There’s a technique for everything,” he says.
“And it gave me a lot more tools to use when it comes to reading.”
Noting he’s the type of person to put himself out there, Mike says appearing on national television was an extension of that.
“I am who I am,” he says. “And I’ve always done what I’ve done.”
Armed with new tools and increased confidence, Mike says he’ll be undertaking further schooling next year.
Over the years, Active has assisted with any training by providing someone to read the course materials for him or write his answers on his behalf.
Now, he’s hoping to attain his Certificate III and then V in arboriculture, and the plan is to complete those without requiring as much help as he drawn on in the past.
Beyond his professional career, there are exciting personal milestones on the horizon.
In March next year, Rachel and Mike will welcome their first child and he hopes at some point to visit England and introduce his child to his family.
Mike mentions working in the tree industry gave him purpose, and his approach to climbing and arboriculture mirrors his approach to life.
It’s about teamwork, putting yourself out there, steering things in the right direction, and above all enjoying the view from the top.