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Now, he works for Simon and Trudi Webb on their orchard, near Cromwell, and is the first person to graduate from the year-long Seasonal Solutions cadetship programme.
Seasonal Solutions labour co-ordinator Laura Sutherland said Mr Coombridge was one of four who had started the inaugural programme in December 2017, and was the first to complete it, with another two expected to graduate in a couple of months.
One person had left the programme and another three will complete it at the end of this year.
Seasonal Solutions developed the programme, in partnership with Primary ITO and orchard members, which was designed to address the shortage of workers in the sector.
Administration manager Damianne Wells said the cadetship programme provided a "taster'' of the various jobs during the 12-month cycle on an orchard or vineyard.
"We wanted to get some new blood into the industry,'' Ms Wells said.
Mr Coombridge comes from a sheep and beef background but wanted to work in horticulture.
He was grateful to the Webbs and appreciated all they had done for him.
"I was thrown in the deep end in terms of jobs,'' he said.
He also passed his level 3 national certificate in horticulture and will study part time for his level 4 certificate at Otago Polytechnic, in Cromwell.
He said without organisations such as Seasonal Solutions, young people often had no idea what careers were available in the horticulture industry.
"It is more than a summer job.''