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Rewarding industry attracts fresh faces

While the landscaping labour shortage continues to hurt businesses, increasing numbers of apprentices may help to ease the burden in coming years

As demand for landscaping has increased over the past few years, so has demand for training in the field – data from Primary ITO shows a substantial increase in the number of trainees learning the vocation. Last year, 280 people started a landscaping apprenticeship, compared to 171 in 2020. Apprenticeships with ITO take longer than one year, so there were 509 landscaping apprentices in 2021 – up from 333 in 2020.

Primary ITO is the only organisation in New Zealand dedicated to providing training and qualifications to more than 30 primary industries, and it offers multi-year landscaping apprenticeships with various focuses.

Despite the average age of a landscaping apprentice being 28, learners seem to be getting younger. The current age profile of Primary ITO apprentices is 49% aged 17 to 24, 35% aged 25 to 34, 15% aged 35 to 44 and 5% aged 45 to 54.

Lure of landscaping

Primary ITO’s landscaping and arboriculture sector manager Mark Orr believes the increase reflects a recognition that landscaping is a very fulfilling career option.

“Given the average age of landscaping apprentices or trainees is 28, it usually means these are people who have had another career or significant life experience before moving into landscaping, and are making a distinctive choice.”

Mark says Primary ITO is also updating its landscaping apprenticeship programmes to make sure it remains current.

“We’ve had some really good feedback from industry that will help make training even more attractive.”

The rise in landscape apprentices corrolates to a wider apprenticeship boom, with the Ministry of Education (MoE) revealing a 49% increase in the overall number of apprentices between August 2019 and August 2022.

The construction industry, which includes landscaping, accounts for a significant portion of those.

Demand still outstrips supply

Ben Thomas, director at WeScape, is glad to see so many deciding to become qualified landscapers.

“We love apprentices and I’ve got two about to start now, both of whom have already done about eight months on the tools with us, so they know more or less what they’re getting into,” he says.

However, it’s all about having the right ratio of experience, and the increase in apprentices doesn’t resolve the need for qualified landscapers right now.

“I just picked up another qualified landscaper after 12 months of recruiting,” says Ben. “All our vehicles drive around with ‘employing now’ written on them, and we’re constantly looking for staff, though we are picky – it’s as much about skill as it is the right fit.”

The increase in apprentices mirrors the growth of the industry across the board. Data from the Annual Enterprise Survey shows that the number of landscape businesses has grew from 2,967 in 2018 to 3,483 in 2020, and employee count was up to 7,200 (2020) from 6,000 (2018).

Profit also grew, increasing from $89m in 2018 to $151m in 2020, while collective income increased to $1.6bn – up from $1.1bn in 2018.


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