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, we’ve got feedback on a subject that is probably on many of your minds…
Q. Is it hard to find staff?
Interviewee: Jaye Nutting (Director)
Location: Queenstown/Cromwell Staff: 10
We desperately want to employ Kiwis but, being based in the Queenstown region with its transient workforce, this isn’t easy. In the 16 years we’ve been in business, finding staff has always been an issue – this year is extra challenging because, due to Covid-19, we can’t rely as much on qualified internationals.
We have a core of long-term employees, which forms the backbone of our team, and we have some good internationals on sponsored visas. We’d normally have around 14 staff at this time of year, but we are down to ten now.
We could use the extra staff, because we work a lot in high-end residential properties and there are still enquiries for new builds at this end of the market.
We thought that with borders shut and local hospitality staff
struggling to find work, coupled with the Introduction of the new apprenticeship scheme, more locals would be interested in taking up landscaping. But last week we had just two applications.
So, it’s vital we get access to staff from offshore, because there are very few New Zealanders looking for this type of work.
Having said that, I understand that our industry is down the list. In fact, I would prefer to see the likes of fruit pickers and shearers get priority, because those industries rely on international labour, whereas we are getting by.
We aren’t a huge company, so we can operate with lower than ideal staff numbers and still be effective.
Dealing with Immigration NZ has been a mixed bag for us. In the past, it’s been very difficult, but in the past couple of years we’ve had some great experiences – especially applying
for the new Employment Visa Escalation service, which fast-tracks work visas and makes it easier to fill staff vacancies in time.
One positive in all the difficulty created by Covid-19 is the Government apprenticeship support. This is great to see – not just for landscaping, but for all trades that have been understaffed for many years. I’m hopeful this will help address staff shortages and place some true value on trades as a career.
Interviewee: Kylie Herrick (Director/Owner)
Location: Wellington Staff: 16
We have always found it challenging finding good staff and we are always looking – especially at the more experienced level.
If we advertise locally for experienced landscapers, we often don’t receive any high-quality applications, or find that the level of skill doesn’t match the applicant’s claims.
Advertising on global sites for tradespeople looking to move to NZ has yielded varying results – we’ve hired from the UK, US and South Africa. We obviously haven’t attempted to hire an international worker since the Covid-19 pandemic.
We’ve had good success using a referral system, where we give a cash bonus to staff who bring someone in. Local Facebook pages can be successful, too.
Our people are our most valuable asset and having a great team culture is critical to us. New hires have to share our work ethic and be a team player, or we don’t hire them. This undoubtedly reduces our talent pool, but is something we won’t compromise on.
Ultimately, we’ve found the best way to get the right people in our team is to employ them as beginners and train them ourselves.
Whenever we can, we employ people who have little or no landscaping experience, but a desire to work in the industry. Some have experience in other trades, which helps. Within a few months, we know if they are apprentice material – which is 90% about attitude. We’ve instituted 16 landscaping apprenticeships over the years and look forward to many more.
It’s no secret there is a shortage of skilled trade staff across New Zealand. We can’t solve that issue single-handedly, but we are focused on playing our part in growing the country’s skills pipeline by training people to a high standard – not just for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the industry as a whole.
Interviewee: Robert Luijten (Founder)
Location: Auckland Staff: 30
We are very fortunate to have a strong core of staff, who have been with the company for many years – they make a great team. Outside of this team, we are permanently looking for new additions with varying abilities to help us handle our workload.
Some join straight after high school – keen young people, who enjoy being outdoors. We are happy to train them and encourage them to complete an apprenticeship in landscape construction. Others join us from different trades – they can learn additional skills, such as paving or timberwork, so they become good all-round landscapers.
Since the Government has been offering the Apprenticeship Boost Initiative, some of our experienced hard-scaping staff are stepping up to become qualified on the horticulture side of landscaping.
Hiring and training new staff takes a lot of time and resources – not many landscape companies I know have their own HR department. The most frustrating part is where we run advertisements and no NZ citizens or permanent residents apply. This problem isn’t new and hasn’t changed with rising unemployment since Covid-19.
We are happy to hire any nationality and help them with their visa or Permanent Resident applications, as long as they have solid landscaping skills or would like to become landscapers. (ITO training is available for most visa holders).
It would be good if a discussion existed between Registered Master Landscapers and the NZ Government to make them aware of the problems visa holders have – it’s something we’d like to try to advance.
The current points system isn’t working – you can lose good staff because of it. We would really like to see more flexibility and a sensible approach from Immigration NZ.