Declining work ethics and a general lack of awareness of industry opportunities are creating critical short- and long-term labour challenges in the world of landscaping. Ffion Llwyd-Jones explores how the industry is responding.
Attitudes, awareness and salary
The industry is ill-prepared, says Marian Barker of Fresh Horticultural Careers: “The sector has never faced up to the long-term problem of recruitment because there have always been people around to work the seasonal highs. Now, the number of people coming here to work (seasonally or otherwise) is diminishing rapidly and there just isn’t the workforce to replace them.”
Mark Bolam, recruitment consultant at Horticruitment UK agrees that finding reliable employees for the industry is “no easier than a few years ago; there seem to be less quality candidates on the market at all levels.”
It’s an opinion echoed by Darren Taylor, Marketing and Communications Manager, of the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI).
“Members report that within the last 12-24 months the level of apprentices isn’t up to the standard they need or expect, that candidates just can’t do the job, and a lot of them are lazy,” he states.
However, Karl Hansell, Communications Executive at the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) notes the labour shortage is not restricted to the UK:
“Colleagues in America face a similar problem,” he says. “Working outside year-round is a big thing, especially in the winter; perhaps it puts people off. And, in the past, the industry’s been regarded as something that you fall into, perhaps if you’ve not done particularly well on the academic side of things.”
Marion agrees poor public perception of the industry needs to change, to realise it’san industry based on skill and knowledge. She comments that while children in primary school are shown how to grow mustard and cress, sunflowers and vegetable patches, by the time they get into secondary school, such activities are off the curriculum. She adds there also needs to be more interaction between the colleges and schools.
“You want to catch the 16-18 years old who don’t want to go to university, don’t know what they want to do, but don’t want to sit in an office all day,” she explains.
“To a lot of young people, the idea of putting harnesses on and climbing trees sounds like fun, and arboriculture is one of the most lucrative areas of landscaping.”
She points out another underlying problem: “The industry pays badly. We’ve got vacancies in Central London paying £20-25,000, and they work hard, have industry knowledge, and need a driving licence.”
Mark agrees that managing salary expectations is a challenge: “The industry isn’t well paid enough, and problems happen when people want to buy houses and have families.”
And, as Marion points out, it’s an issue that dissuades career-changers who might otherwise fill the people-shortage gap. “We’ve dealt with many organisations who teach horticulture to career changes and people returning to the career market. But the biggest issue is the money.”
Mark confirms that employers value transferable skills from career changers, especially formal training, driving and managerial skills, but adds, “Realistic salary expectations are essential for second-career people.”
Renumeration, education and digital trends
As Karl points out, the Committee for Golf Club Salaries (CGCS) has recommendations for remuneration for golf managers and greenkeepers.
“It’s not just BIGGA, but is also part of other partners within the industry, ” he adds. “We publish those details in Greenkeeper International and to our members and on our website, so our members are made aware of them. It’s a useful tool, and it’s available and searchable if people need it. It certainly helps.”
And Darren of BALI comments that there’s been a bit of a stigma to say the industry is poorly paid: “There are some areas that perhaps aren’t up to standards, but when you look at the average salary that members pay out for an operative, it’s pretty good.”
Addressing the issue of interaction among schools and colleges, Karl mentions the Young Greenkeepers Committee, which gives “a voice and platform for people who just getting into the industry”.
“Many of our members host events where they invite school kids to the golf course, where they can find out about the ecology work going on, or some of the more complicated practices,” he adds.
“It’s a really good way that greenkeepers are bridging that gap to encourage more people into the profession. We are aware of the need to engage at the school level and we hope to do that more in the future.”
And the planning and creation of new courses also directly impacts the industry’s workforce, as Darren explains: “The new Capel Manor qualification has been led by industry, by employers who helped develop the curriculum because that’s exactly what they’re looking for, which makes the student more employable. That’s a really important part for us.”
Furthermore, the new Trailblazer Apprenticeship standards was developed with companies across the industry coming together to create apprenticeships that meet current and future needs in arboriculture, forestry, horticulture and landscaping – again resulting in a direct impact on the workforce.
“The Greenkeepers Training Committee (a partner company) has done a lot of work with new Trailblazer apprentice scheme,” comments Karl. “It’s huge for us.” Darren agrees the scheme is “a sort of tour de force of the industry”, adding there’s been a lot of uptake for the foundation level, with the supervisor and manager level becoming available online.
“Employers can start using them as part of their recruitment of apprentices,” he says.
Digital, online technology is affecting more than education and apprenticeships.
“It’s a game changer,” enthuses Richard Knight of online service Grafter, which launched in 2018. He cites the digital app as a positive story, enabling people who need workers to find people who need work.
“We create a community between grafters and employers,” he says. “Jobs can last from five days to two weeks.” While the app focuses on non-specialised labour, the ‘grafter’ profiles (rather than a CV) list location and any qualifications such as NVQs, HND safety courses, and specialist qualifications.
Also cutting out the ‘middleman’, the Marlin app also lets registered candidates enter basic contact details, a profile picture and previous work history (verified by Marlin). Founder Demos Demetriou says: “If you want to be found by a private household or family office you really need the Marlin app. There are no recruitment agencies in the middle, just a transparent app that puts you in direct contact with your potential employer.”
Fulfilling career dreams
Karl comments that while parents may dream of their child becoming a doctor or a pilot, they wouldn’t often dream of them being a greenkeeper. “We need to re-educate them about the opportunities, and what a fantastic industry it is with a chance to work anywhere in the world,” he explains.
“If you take the career seriously and decide it’s for you and you embrace it, then the opportunity’s there. You just have to get involved with education, make contacts within the industry, and who knows where it can take you monetarily and around the world?”
And as Darren concludes: “The industry offers all the benefits of working outdoors, being part of a team – and there’s a paid pension, health and safety, and training courses. Let’s be positive about this!”