The employer’s perspective
Skills shortages are an ongoing concern for employers, who face a range of challenges when it comes to attracting and retaining employees, and in seeking to build a tight-knit and smoothly functioning team.
As outlined in the previous article in this series, ensuring there are enough qualified arborists coming through the ranks is a continuing issue for industry, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
So, from the employer’s perspective, what exactly is the nature and extent of the various challenges being faced?
Barriers to attracting and retaining staff Henk Morgans, an arborist who runs Evergreen Tree Care in Brisbane and who is a member of the QAA, explained to AA that there are a number of problems that companies will typically need to address in seeking to attract and retain employees.
Henk noted that these problems exist on an industry-wide scale, having become more entrenched over the last decade, and pointed to there being a fundamental difficulty in securing appropriately qualified staff. “There’s a real crisis for finding people who can do tree work,” he said. “We’ve had that same struggle as everyone else at the moment – finding staff and holding on to them. We’re not talking about a simple fix here, we’re talking about an industry that has a skills shortage across multiple different aspects.
“The fact is that it’s a high-risk, highly technical job – you can’t just go and get a three-day training course and become an excellent tree climber with great skills.”
Henk stressed that it can take two-to-four years to develop the required skills, and as a starting point, highlighted the challenges surrounding attracting younger workers into the industry, with arboriculture competing with other more well-known trades.
Meanwhile, he noted that once staff have been trained, employers then face challenges in retaining them, with staff potentially keen to explore other opportunities either in or outside of industry, and smaller businesses in particular unable to provide scope for ongoing advancement.
Shane Hall, Bayside City Council Senior Investigations Arborist, Amenity Protection, also pointed to the difficulty in attracting employees, likening it to being “a little like most flowering plants, making sure that they attract the right pollinators, at the right time, in the right place”.
“You need to have a well-rounded approach, financial remuneration is important and needs to be stated upfront,” he observed. “The term ‘negotiable with the right candidate’ tends to put a lot of potential applicants off.”
The importance of flexibility and mentoring Shane noted that another key factor is employee flexibility, such as vehicle and mobile phone use, while career paths are also an important consideration.
“If I had a top three list it would be: being upfront with the dollars that the position will attract, offer a career path that potential applicants can see where they will end up, and promote the flexibility and culture of the business,” he told AA.
When it comes to retaining employees, Shane pointed to the importance of training, treating and investing in employees “like they are going to stay with you for 30 years”.
Henk additionally observed that, given the physically demanding nature of the work, many workers within industry will naturally have a limited period of time within certain roles before looking to other opportunities.
With many workers subsequently leaving the industry, this has created a disconnect between generations of workers, with Henk noting that this has placed strain on the ability to mentor new workers entering the industry.
“Having the mentorship of mature people to bring in newer people, and spending time in one-on-one mentorship is critical,” he told AA. “However, the problem is that if you don’t have that already in your company, then how are new staff going to learn those skills and techniques?”
Industry is set to face a range of challenges over the next decade, with Henk pointing to the potential for many of the current generation of workers to leave the industry, seeking opportunities elsewhere.
In light of this, he stressed the importance of ongoing training and development, and supporting staff through their different career stages.
“There are a lot of good things about the tree industry,” he commented. “There’s health benefits to being outside and enjoying nature. If you’re in a small team, or a small family company, you’re not just a number, which can provide some significant benefits.
“Of course, a positive attitude, along with good working conditions, is something that businesses should be aware of.”
Our next instalment in this series will look into the new industry licence and how it is changing the profession.