Tackling the arboricultural skills shortage

Is the current shortage of tree workers a nationwide concern? Not entirely, according to Nick Obern, Gristwood and Toms’ Training and Assessment Manager. “While most of us are struggling to find qualified staff in England, Scotland has the problem in reverse; too many workers for not enough jobs!”

Nick was recently invited to talk at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Inverness College, and was impressed by the enthusiasm and passion shown by the students. “The college courses for arborists at Inverness are open to all ages and everyone I met shared the same determination and eagerness to start a career in tree work. During my presentation, I spoke about the services that Gristwood and Toms offer and the work opportunities available in England. At the end of the talk, there were a few students actually asking me how to apply!

The first recruit from the University started work at the company’s Bedford depot in January and it’s hoped that many more will follow. Andrew Potter, Lecturer of Arboriculture and Forestry at the University, is keen to encourage his students to venture south in the search for employment. “Having spent five years working in Hertfordshire I have to say that tree management techniques in the South are further forward, probably the most advanced in the UK, so I am happy to recommend that our students gain experience and learn new skills there, says Andrew. “Hopefully some will return to Scotland and bring those skill sets back.”

It is understandable that Andrew would want the best for his students but why does he think they are so drawn to the industry in the first place? “Outside of its main cities, Scotland has a lot of tree cover, the land is less developed and less populated and youngsters who grow up in these areas have an inherent connection with nature. They tend to be more aware of environmental issues so those who choose a career in arboriculture and forestry do so because they have a deep-rooted interest and a passion for it.” This makes it easier to attract students onto the courses in the first place and to keep them there. It also means that the available jobs in Scotland are quickly filled so the idea of moving south and gaining skills with established and professionally run tree management companies is appealing.

Nick Obern believes that attracting workers from other countries could be crucial. “The recruitment situation in England isn’t getting any better so why not look further afield for new staff? It’s a system that works well in the construction industry and could be equally successful in arboriculture. We’ve already recruited three experienced climbers from Denmark who are settling in well and we’re really looking forward to developing our links with Scotland.”

For current vacancies at Gristwood and Toms, visit our careers page.