Landscapers adapt to technological change

Greg Bedson reports on how landscapers adapt to technological change as they work in landscaping industry

The year is 1999, Lance Armstrong wins his first Tour de France, the threat of the Millennium Bug causes worldwide panic across the globe, and then quietly in a corner of southern England the first seeds are sown for the launch of The Landscaper Magazine. Fast forward 20 years – Armstrong has long been stripped of all his medals, the Y2K bug failed to bite, but The Landscaper Magazine continues to thrive and keeps the presses printing as it continues to report on industry news and on new products as they hit the market. 

Much has changed within the landscaping industry since this magazine’s inception, perhaps most notably, for better or worse, the technological advances. For example, not many of us would have foreseen a time when sports pitches and golf courses would be cut by a robotic lawn mower, controlled using a mobile phone. Or even more remarkably, that garden designers would be able to use virtual reality and augmented reality to show clients a scaled proposed design right before their eyes, standing in the space as though it exists in real life. 

Smart technology

For many landscapers, the smart phone has become one of the most fundamental tools in the van. Photos can easily be taken on site – useful for reference or portfolio purposes. For showing clients and colleagues work achieved. Invoices can be generated at the touch of a button, online orders can be placed on site, and it’s now easier than ever for those who have to travel to new clients in unfamiliar locations with the use of Apps like Google Maps. 

Furthermore, smart technology can enhance fleet management such as the latest from STIHL Connected. This gives professional users a detailed overview of key power tool data via a portal in order to enhance maintenance programmes and fleet management efficiencies. 

However, the instantaneous way we now run our businesses can also have adverse affects – clients often expect immediate responses to their emails at any given hour; staff members who get distracted by their phone could pose both a safety risk and have an effect on performance. There is also the danger of becoming that bit too reliant on our phone, so that when the battery runs out or signal fails, schedules can be negatively affected. 

Size of the industry 

Data from Oxford Economics, suggests there were 196,300 workers helping to deliver landscaping services in 2017, with £2.4 billion spent on the services that gardeners and landscapers provide. But there is still room for improvement on these statistics.

According to Phil Tremayne, APL General Manager, there has never been a better time to choose landscaping as a career with, “opportunities for keen and dedicated individuals in abundance.” Treymane does acknowledge however, that training the next generation creates a different scenario. 

“Colleges have courses, but as numbers have dwindled over the years many of these have closed or have been combined with general horticulture. The lack of time at the colleges and the need to ensure that Maths and English GCSE are covered also means that practical experience on the courses is limited. This is not the colleges’ fault, this is just circumstance,” he says.

Treymane goes on to say that many employers do not have the time or resources to train on-site, leading to “young, keen individuals not progressing as fast as they could.”

Earlier this year, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) raised concerns about the declining interest in the industry, with Sue Biggs, the society’s Director General, stating that gardening needs to be taught in schools to reverse the trend of generations of children who are growing up disconnected from nature or she states, “we won’t have enough gardeners to keep the 22 million gardens in this country going, and that will only make environmental issues worse. 

This concern of a decline in interest in the industry has been mirrored in a recent report from the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) which highlights the fall in the number of young people entering a career in Groundsmanship. It points to a need to invest more in training, so that we have enough professionals to maintain the sports pitches that are in increasing demand. (See full report on page 

Other reports, notably Horticulture Matters has found that 70 percent of businesses say that they struggle to find the skilled workers they require and 83% put this down to the poor perception of horticulture in schools and colleges.

It’s not necessarily all doom and gloom for the next generation of landscapers though. Treymane explains that the block release format of the APL apprenticeship gives the apprentice the opportunity to hit the ground running. This linked with show garden experience and WorldSkills UK he says, “is producing some of the best young talents in the industry.”

Conquest APL Apprentice Day.  Credit Ginger Horticulture 

“Other initiatives have started to come to the fore. The industry has recognised the gap in training and APL members like Mark Youde of Urban Landscapes in Cheshire have built their own Landscape Academy, which is delivering standard courses for APL and some excellent bespoke classes for companies. Steve Smith of Shore Landscapes has been delivering bespoke courses for members on the south coast.”

There is a real appetite to train and a willingness to do it and it is hoped that with these initiatives, the industry can display a far more fluid career path and entice applicants into this career.

Career path, training and diversity in work all build good retention in the industry. It is accepted that some who train will move on and start their own businesses however this shouldn’t be frowned upon, they are the employers of the future.

Impact on the environment 

As society becomes better informed and more aware of the environmental impact of our actions, those within the industry are coming under increasing pressure to think twice about their carbon footprint and make strides to become more sustainable.

There is a green revolution currently underway within pitchcare, with some football clubs taking the lead from Forest Green Rovers FC (apparently the world’s greenest football club in the world). Here, the club boasts of a pesticide and herbicide free pitch that is maintained using a GPS-directed electric lawnmowers. 

In past issues of The Landscaper Magazine, we have given a nod to Forest Green’s efforts and have also discussed some of the advances that the wider industry is making in a bid to become greener; switching from petrol to cordless power tools, producing recyclable plant pots; green-keepers adopting a ‘no-mow’ approach to certain areas of the golf course and football clubs collecting and re-using rainwater to water the pitches.

These are positive signs that the industry is moving in the right direction, however there are further changes we all can and need to make to stay ahead of the game and provide the service consumers will become to expect in the near future. 

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