Tough – not impossible

Peter Hunt considers current job prospects and looks ahead to a changing landscape

We operate across a range of land based sectors, from agriculture and fresh food production to commercial horticulture, garden centres and landscaping. Some are holding up better than others but all are affected in some way by the current ‘credit crunch’. Landscaping in particular has seen a sharp tail off, especially that part of the sector linked closely to the construction industry. Recruitment in grounds maintenance has also slowed although here the main driver seems to be an increased caution on the part of employers. Ongoing maintenance, by definition, still has to take place but perhaps timescales are getting stretched or some outsourced tasks are being taken in house. There is a general tightening of belts and any areas that are seen as discretionary expenditure are being analysed very carefully – across all sectors.

This of course has had a knock on effect on recruitment. Confidence is a key element and what we are seeing is that, for now, employers are very much focused on their core activities. We are still getting in vacancies every week but, across the board, these are nearly all replacement roles. Very few companies are recruiting for new developments or new projects. Everyone is generally more risk averse and even if they could get access to new money from the banks many of our clients are simply hunkering down for what they see as a difficult year ahead. There is definitely a bit of a siege mentality out there. However, there are undoubtedly some who are using the current downturn as an opportunity to look at their businesses, analyse how they operate and restructure, ready for the upturn.

What are the prospects for anyone looking at building a career in the landscape sector’ Our experience over the last few months tell us that there are still jobs out there, it’s just that employers are becoming increasingly selective in the type of people they are choosing to take on. This means that candidates also need to raise their game and perhaps start thinking a bit more analytically about themselves. They too need to review their skills and aspirations. You can’t restructure yourself but you can do a bit of re-invention, add new skills to your personal toolkit and look at ways that you can try to increase your personal employability.

Flexibility is always a useful asset to have and this is even more so in today’s market. That’s not just the obvious things like location and salary but also flexibility in your outlook to how you can use the skills you have. I recently read an article that outlined ‘12’ possible options for landscape based careers and whilst making a living from being a landscape artist might be a challenge for any of us, even assuming we had any talent, putting your knowledge and experience to good use in slightly different role related to the sector could be a possibility. In particular sales related roles, working ‘alongside’ the sector selling landscaping products, chemicals or related services where clients want people with good core industry knowledge. It won’t be an option that suits everyone’s character but there are still good opportunities on offer in these areas.

All the advice that you will have read about how to prepare yourself for interviews still hold good. There is no secret formula to shortcut the process. Landscaping is a profession that tends to attract practical hard working people and in times like these they need to apply those same qualities to themselves and their careers. Preparation is the key, do the groundwork and make sure you have the foundations in place to build on. At present there is a plethora of government initiatives centred on training and work based skills. Take advantage of these. The more useful qualifications that you have will give you that bit of extra value in the eyes of the client.

This year is going to be tough. But that’s tough not impossible, it will also throw up new opportunities and challenges, some doors will close others will open. It’s my view that the business world – after the storm – will be healthier, more hard working and a great deal more transparent.

Peter Hunt is a director of the specialist recruitement company

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