How to attract employees into landscaping

What will attract employees into the world of landscaping and sports turf asks Greg Rhodes 

Recruitment is the buzz word for many across the landscaping sector, as member bodies, land-based industry colleges and employers wrestle with an issue that to date shows little sign of resolution. In a sector that research shows is the province of white older males, the focus is on making landscaping more inclusive but also portraying it as a dynamic, progressive career that offers exciting, fulfilling opportunities.  Tech presents one route to help promote the sector to a new audience, some believe, but landscaping must jostle with a host of competing industries in which innovations come thick and fast.

Drone technology

Drone technology could present a way to ease the recruitment crisis, believes Rob Pearson, founder of AutoSpray Systems, which is pioneering its use in agriculture. Widespread application in the UK alone standsto grow the economy by £45 bn, he states, while “saving the environment millions of tonnes of carbon” in the process. AutoSpray holds the sole licence for using drones in agriculture spraying and spreading although plant protection products (PPP) such as weedkillers cannot be applied currently. The big break could come as early as this spring though, when new developments may allow such use.

“Any PPP with a Ministerially Approved Pesticide Product (MAPP number is barred at the moment,” Rob explains, “but once the Chemicals Regulation Division of the HSE receive suitable spray drift data regarding the safe use of PPP application from drones, the market will really open up and I expect to see applications move into landscaping and amenity to add to drones’ valuable role in horticulture, forestry and agriculture.”

Drones can deliver solids and liquids with equal ease, Rob maintains – “seeds, fertilisers, growth stimulants, for example. We have also been testing nematode application at Harper Adams University. Treating destructive species such as Oak Processionary Moth (OPM) and Pine Weevil are more convenient and safer using the technology. A total of 57 PPPs are about to go through the approval process.”

Lantra approved training 

Harper Adams is already running a CAA/Lantra-approved five-day training course on drone use, which is proving very popular. “Since we exhibited drones at one of the university’s exhibitions we’ve seen a big influx of training recruits. Young people see them as a sexy alternative to dull, dirty and dangerous jobs – a productive and profitable career path.”

Course content spans safe handling with chemicals, spraying and flight planning certificate, followed by a day and a half Lantra assessment.

“Once qualified, pilots can operate our drones under licence as an approved agent, and we’ll be offering a CPD programme via quarterly meetings. “Contractors are always the first into a new market and we expect this to apply here.”

David Fisher, Head of Industry Partnerships for awarding body Lantra agrees that the rise of tech in landscaping offers image benefits, which can aid recruitment. “It can promote itself as a 21st century sector,” he says. “Drones, whether used for seed application or paint spraying, are wizzy bits of kit that make areas more accessible and quicken the job.

“They can capture data to better inform landscapers when mapping areas for example, and land-based industries will need people with data processing skills to interpret the information.

Also, from a health and safety standpoint, tech such as robotic mowers deployed on slopes and embankments lift the risks of using ride-ons, David adds.

Work on autonomous field equipment by Harper Adams University, a longstanding training partner of Lantra, has led to the development of the five-day course on drones. “The university is big on tech and worked with Autospray Systems on content, which Lantra accredits as one of its customised provision courses, awarding a dual badge certificate,” David explains.

He also sees the advent of tech as a route to recruitment. “Entrepreneurial people will spot an opportunity to set up as drone spray contractors,” he says. Such providers will need a tech savvy workforce as business grows.

“Although some may be scared of the unknown when it comes to new tech, the industry has to accept that some of it will be commonplace in 10 years’ time,” concludes David.

New entrants into landscaping

Attracting people into the sector is also high on the agenda for all the member organisations. The Landscape Institute (LI) for example is exploring a wider catchment from which to attract new entrants to landscaping.

“Our Skills for Greener Places report reveals that right across the landscape professions – from planning, design and management to construction and maintenance – white, older males predominate,” says Tracy Whitfield, Technical and Research Manager at LI.

“But our research also shows a trend for more people being attracted to landscape because of the demand for green skills as part of investment in green infrastructure.”

Sustainability and biodiversity are more than buzzwords it seems as those working in relevant posts see the greening industry as a growing area of interest.

“Since 2010 the landscape industry has grown at a faster rate than the wider economy, increasing by 18% compared to 10% for other industries,” says Tracy.

“Technology is a vast element for the sector where a large number entering the profession are highly skilled. This covers every  specialty within it, whether planning and design or installation. There is a requirement for diversity of jobs across landscaping, some will be more technical and others more labour intensive. This helps to attract not only young people but a wide age spectrum.

“There are plenty of software packages being used and GIS, CAD and BIM are commonplace. If someone prefers a more analytical role, they may use digital tools for example to determine carbon capture or biodiversity or to meet the planning requirements of a landscape,” continues Tracy.

“If conservation’s your career path, drones have applications in tree surveys and photogrammetry – where cameras mounted on them take images to build a landscape picture. The wealth of data available that also includes LiDAR (laser light reflected from an object) and satellite data is changing the way we view landscape.

“We have members who use high-end dronemounted photographic equipment that is sometimes used for landscape and know that VR headsets are being increasingly used for on-site visualisation purposes. Such an application would certainly appeal to the generation for whom such technologies are more familiar.”

But is the advent of AI a double-edged sword asks Tracy. “It will prove a useful tool in learning, to enhance what you do and to achieve tasks faster but it also has the potential to create or remove jobs. Technology such as ChatGPT allows access to new forms of information, but we must treat the way this information is sourced with caution.”

But “getting the message out there about the exciting opportunities in landscaping is a potential barrier for us at the moment. We need it out in the mainstream,” says Tracy.

Recruitment message 

So how can this be achieved? By creating a different approach to overcoming the skills gap and recruitment issues within the sector suggests Victoria Fiander, assessor in landscaping and horticulture at Lackham College and University Centre. “Our industry has become fragmented into various sectors and associations, we need more joined up thinking and collaboration. As

one, we are more powerful,” she says.

“The biggest problem is that students don’t know what’s available to them,” she adds suggesting that targeting would-be entrants to the sector is key: “Careers advisors have to reach out to industry as part of a collaborative venture.”

“A national landscaping campaign could be delivered regionally with the support of colleges driven by organisations like BALI and other sector professionals that would target careers advisors, who would then signpost the industry more visibly than at present.

Alongside taster days that could be supported by suppliers who could provide materials for the Land based colleges to use on these days. Victoria is concerned that school leavers don’t know where to go for guidance. If the careers advisers aren’t aware of the breadths of careers available, then how can the students know. Lets highlight the huge range of

creative opportunities she says. And while learning at school there needs to be a more holistic approach to teaching the sciences, so studentsare not put off argues Victoria.

“Landscaping teaches so many functional skills like working out surface areas and volumes. It should be introduced into enrichment programmes to obtain higher maths grades nationally and its fun!

“There is a terrible reality in schools that if you don’t show academic ability then you don’t have any. This is a huge problem and why we see so many students thrive when they embark in apprenticeships. They are nurtured, mentored and as industry professionals we can develop the academic ability.”

Colleges could interact more cohesively, too adds Victoria. “We only have 12 land-based colleges. I am part of the trailblazer sub group which is great for brainstorming and sharing ideas. From these sessions a group of us from various colleges have formed our own network to help each other benefit our students’ learning journey in horticulture and landscaping.

“The next generation of landscapers/horticulturalists can play a massive part in managing the green planet but industry sub-sectors need to work together to create the right environment to inspire school leavers and teach them that landscaping is far more than a building patio or installing lawns, if we want our industry to evolve.” | | | www.

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