An insight in to the future of arboriculture, prepared by Freddy McCreery, Arboricultural Consultant based out of our Northamptonshire office.
During my 11 years working within the arboriculture industry in varied roles with different companies, from starting off as a self-employed sub-contractor whilst studying as a full time student at Moulton College in Northamptonshire, to my current role as Arboricultural Consultant for Lockhart Garratt, it was very apparent that there was, and still is, a lack of skilled workforce within the industry.
A Horticulture Sector Skills Survey, (Pye Tait Consulting, 2019), was published in 2019, which confirmed my perceptions and found that “the sector is facing a critical skills challenge (skills gaps and shortages), manifesting in an ageing workforce, difficulties in filling skilled vacancies and challenges in recruiting apprentices and a general shortage of labour”. This is partially caused by “difficulties in recruiting workers with the right skills and attracting apprentices to the sector, and a major general concern over availability of labour i.e. a sufficient pipeline of future labour”.
Therefore, it was reassuring to read in the spring edition of the Arboricultural Associations’ Arb Magazine, about the first AA School Membership which was awarded to Park Junior School in Stonehouse, Gloucestershire. One of the aims of the free program is to promote arboriculture as a career choice.
Reading the article reminded me of when I presented at Studfall Junior Academy in Corby, Northamptonshire. The aim of the event was to remove prejudices associated with careers, and had speakers from different industries. The first part of the event, speakers sat in an assembly in our casual clothes and the children tried to guess what our career was based on our appearance. Some of the guesses for me were quite interesting, including ‘priest’ and ‘bin man’ as one child said. No one guessed correctly. For the second part of the event we left the assembly and returned wearing our work clothes, where the children then guessed our carers again. Surprisingly, some large amount children still guessed incorrectly, despite my chainsaw PPE, harness ropes and chainsaw, one child thinking that I was a ‘fireman’. Eventually one child did guess correctly with ‘tree surgeon’.
After the assembly all speakers were led to classroom after classroom, to talk about our respective industries and job roles. I wasn’t expecting the gasps of awe and fascination as I entered each classroom in full climbing gear, rope and chainsaw. And I wasn’t expecting the intelligent and well thought questions that followed. Questions that included ‘do you get injured’, ‘what is your favourite part of your job’, ‘are there many girls that do your job’ and of course ‘what is the biggest tree that you have climbed’. The genuine interest shown by the children for the industry gave me a great sense of pride.
From presenting at the event at Studfall Junior Academy, it was clear to me that the majority of children had never heard of, or seen, a Tree Surgeon before, let alone know about the many other career routes available within Arboriculture. Compared to other industries such as Emergency Services, Retail, Catering and Healthcare, Arboriculture doesn’t feature within the psyche of most children.
Where most children know of Firefighters, Shopkeepers, Chefs, Nurses and Doctors, very few know of Tree Surgeons and fewer of Arboricultural Consultants. But the keen interest and excitement for arboriculture is there and if awareness of the industry is increased within children, there would be a greater chance that they would choose a career in Arboriculture. I strongly believe that, as Whitney Houston put it, “children are our future”…of arboriculture, and if just one of the 200 plus children that I presented to, choose arboriculture for a career, I would have made a small, but rewarding, contribution to the industry that I love.