Auckland homeowners who hire a landscaper to design, build or maintain their lush gardens expect the very best results and customer service – which is why Lutz Hartge is always on the look-out for new talent.
Trouble is, qualified staff are hard to come by so investing in apprenticeships and on-the-job training is now crucial to the success of any landscaping business.
Lutz originally trained in Germany but has worked as the Construction Manager for Humphrey’s Landscaping in Auckland for almost 14 years. At any given time, approximately five of his landscaping staff and eight members of the company’s amenity horticulture team are enrolled to study with Primary ITO.
“We’re a wholly residential landscaping company. We design, build and maintain so we do all the irrigation, have our own lawn care teams, then we have the maintenance team who take care of the gardens long-term,” he explains.
“We’ve grown a lot in recent years and now employ 60 to 70 staff. But it’s a real challenge for us, especially in the maintenance division, to hire good qualified staff. There’s a lot of competition out there from other industries to hire capable young people.”
Rather than compromise on quality and hire just anyone, the company has decided to invest heavily in training to help sustain and grow their own workforce.
As well as partnering with Primary ITO to help staff attain formal qualifications, Humphrey’s Landscaping also runs in-house workshops to teach staff new skills like how to pour concrete, construct fences and planting tips and tricks.
“There’s a high level of staff engagement and our workshops are very popular. In the end what you put into training and developing staff, is what you’ll get out of it.”
Lutz says he’s always keen to hire people who see landscaping as a career, not a temporary job.
“It’s a constantly changing industry and it’s evolved a lot over the years. But there’s still a perception that what we do isn’t qualified – that we just push wheelbarrows and spread a bit of bark around – but it’s highly skilled work.
“Easily half of our projects all involve a building and quite often a resource consent. Staff need to be able to interpret complex plans. It’s also a service industry so they need to be pro-active about client engagement, manage our internal systems and be adept at modern communication. You have to have your smarts about you.”
Apprentices are hired and enrolled in a three year study programme with Primary ITO (which Humphrey’s pays for as long as it’s completed). The company then helps staff to rise through the ranks and forge a rewarding career.
“Of course you’re always looking for staff who are qualified who can slot into your business successfully, but you can’t expect them to fall out of the sky.
“Apprenticeships are a natural pathway; you learn your trade and become very good at it before passing that knowledge on to someone else. It’s how you secure your future success and the whole industry benefits from growing new talent.”
Lutz says landscaping business who don’t take on apprentices and invest in training have something fundamentally wrong with their business model in the current market.
“Having been in the industry for 30 years myself, I find it very rewarding and exciting. It’s a great thing to pass on knowledge. It should be embraced.”
Primary ITO has been Humphrey’s training provider for a number of years, and Lutz says ITO staff are “very focussed” and keen to provide the necessary support for landscaping companies be to competitive.
“We’re looking for a commitment to the job and to landscaping as a career. Primary ITO is our vehicle to drive that. It’s a proper recognised apprenticeship so the whole thing ties together and it’s a very professional career pathway.”
Lutz says young apprentices can find the job tough at first, as it’s quite a change from a school environment and requires a lot of physical labour while you learn and work your way up.
“We take on people who often didn’t really enjoy school all that much, not because they’re not bright, but because that way of learning just didn’t suit them. They’re ‘doers’.
“So getting out into the workforce and earning money gives them the opportunity to do stuff and learn with Primary ITO while they’re doing it. It’s a very successful system.”