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Qualified Arborists In High Demand

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Skills shortages are an ongoing issue for industry, and in this new series we are seeking to gain an understanding of the current employment landscape and explore the options available for employers.

Ensuring there are enough qualified arborists coming through the ranks is a continuing challenge for industry, with skills shortages likely to remain a pressing issue for employers for the foreseeable future.

In short, employers should do all they can to retain skilled workers, with labour market analysis demonstrating the scope of challenges faced.

A Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business (formerly the Department of Jobs and Small Business) occupation report reveals that, amid an ongoing trend of shortages, the labour market for arborists tightened significantly last year, with the lowest proportion of vacancies filled on record.

  • Around 15 per cent of vacancies were filled, a figure well down on previous years, with some of the key takeaways from the department research being:
  • The 15 per cent vacancy fill rate compares with 28 per cent in 2017 and 29 per cent in 2016
  • There was an average of 4.6 applicants per vacancy, down from 7.3 applicants in 2017 and 5.6 in 2016
  • Of the applicants, 34 per cent were qualified

The department advises that all employers sought Certificate III qualifications in arboriculture, which many stated was necessary to meet government contract requirements, with most seeking arborists with good physical fitness and at least one-to-two years of experience.

How do we compare with overseas markets?

The Australian arboriculture industry is by no means alone in experiencing issues related to labour shortages.

In the US, the Tree Care Industry Association has been advocating for visa reform, with it noting that “industry is facing a huge labour shortage”.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook refers to arborists as “tree trimmers and pruners”, with its figures revealing:

  • There were 54,500 tree trimmers and pruners employed in 2016
  • Employment is projected to grow 12 per cent from 2016 to 2026, at a rate faster than the average for all occupations

As with its US counterparts, Australian industry has been looking overseas in seeking to recruit qualified arborists.

The department’s occupation report notes many employers stated, due to a lack of suitable domestic applicants, they had recruited qualified arborists from the UK in previous years, however these employers also noted recruitment difficulties have increased due to a reduction in overseas applicants.

What’s the outlook?

The department report notes new occupation supply remains below levels recorded in 2014, while there are signs demand has continued to grow.

Internet advertised vacancies for the broad gardeners occupational group (including arborists) grew by 50 per cent over the five years to September 2018, compared to 24 per cent growth for all occupations.

It is, however, worth noting that in the year to September 2018 gardener vacancies increased by 6 per cent, compared to 7.5 per cent for all occupations.

Arboriculture and horticulture apprenticeship and traineeship completions have remained steady over the past three years, as opposed to a significant increase between 2012 and 2014, with completions having returned to previous levels.

Meanwhile, apprenticeship commencements have declined, which the department notes suggests new training supply will unlikely significantly mitigate shortages in the near future.

The department advises that arborists and gardeners employment is projected to grow by 14 per cent over the five years to May 2023, compared to 7.1 per cent growth for all occupations.

Our next instalment in this series will explore what employers can do to build a champion team in a challenging labour market, including how to attract strong applicants and how to retain staff.

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