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Landscape Views - Issue 9

This is a column by landscapers, for landscapers. In it, you’ll find knowledge, views and insights from professionals just like you, who are currently working in the industry. This issue, three landscapers share their views on how you can make sure you bring on board the type of staff you want to keep

Q. How do you select and retain great staff?


Interviewee: Scott Humphreys

Role: Director

Location: Auckland

Staff: 90

You can train people from scratch without a landscaping background – as long as that’s what they want to do and they’re passionate about it. You should always be selecting people who suit your company and match its culture.

Of the people who have started with me, only 50% of them were prepared for what they were going to do. People who are young and starting off in a new career are generally better prepared than people who are wanting a change. The people wanting a change may find the physical side harder or aren’t expecting the fitness required for lifting, digging and handling heavy equipment.

In my experience, it’s more likely someone is suitable if they are physically fit, want to be outdoors, have passion and have researched the role, as opposed to coming along to a job they might like.

There is a trickle of young people coming into the industry, but we need a flow. The industry needs to be better profiled in schools. We need to raise awareness that landscaping is an integral $1.3bn part of the construction industry; that it’s not all sole traders; and that there’s plenty of scope to progress from working on the tools into management.


Interviewee: Craig Thomas

Role: Managing Director

Location: Christchurch

Staff: 14

I reckon you know in the first two hours if a new person is cut out for landscaping by how they carry out tasks. If they’ve said they have a skill and carry it out with confidence, they’re obviously not bluffing. The job requires good communication, honesty and ability to follow instructions.

As for essential things new landscapers need to be trained in, understanding the logistics of what order in which to complete landscaping tasks is essential.

The bulk of our staff who stay with us are self-starters. They vary in age, but what they have in common is that they take ownership of their work, so if the company is doing well, they are doing well.

Good customer service and presentation is a huge part of that – my guys communicate well, they have hi-vis embroidered shirts, and their vehicles are sign-written.

If an employer wants to retain a 19-year-old who is just starting out, I would encourage them to give the person varied work and plenty of advice. Perks are important, too – my staff are allowed to occasionally use company tools at home.


Interviewee: Paul Green

Role: Owner

Location: Thames

Staff: 5

Good beginner staff need to have a willingness to learn. We look for applicants who have a bouncy attitude, as opposed to slow and cruising along. Nearly all people who apply with us don’t start off with horticultural training. They’ve often left school and perhaps laid concrete for a while.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag with the younger guys and, unfortunately, we’ve had drug problems with a couple. However, some can surprise you. We had one school leaver that we hired and, soon after I thought we shouldn’t have taken him on. But, months later, he’s stepped up to the mark.

I think it all comes down to work ethic. If the newbies can take directions eight hours a day, they start learning a wider range of skills. Generally, young guys take 12 months to settle down and realise what work is.

We’ve found the ITOs good in training but noticed a high turnover of landscapers. Not enough new staff want to commit to landscaping for at least 3-4 years – I don’t know why, considering we’re paying our guys $25-$30 per hour starting out and we treat them well with fishing trips and rugby matches.


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