We’re nearly halfway through the year and by now we should be well into the season of doing what we do best, albeit with a few more issues to contend with, not least of which is the recently introduced National Living Wage. While personally I think this is a good initiative, it does make things in our industry all the more difficult when, on one side we are faced with increased wage bills and, on the other, further cuts to our clients’ budgets. Ironically, both of these issues are driven by the same government – does no one else find this farcical?
We’re all familiar with the skills shortage within our industry and the need to invest more in training and the development of the next generation of landscapers, parks supervisors and contract managers. But it starts with the basics – laying turf, strimming, pollarding trees, hedge cutting, digging graves and marking football pitches, a huge range of skills undertaken in a range of sometimes difficult environments and varying weather conditions. To my mind, attracting new people into our industry has become a lot more difficult as the enthusiasm to work in the outdoors seems to have reduced. It’s great when the sun’s shining, but why work in the wind and rain when stacking shelves in a supermarket seems a more comfortable alternative?
Cut and blow – not just for hairdressers!
Sure we can make things more pleasant by putting cabs on machines, but then we’ll need air conditioning, and the weight will go up so we’ll need bigger trucks to carry/tow these machines, then we’ll need different driving licences and an Operator’s Licence – whoever said grass cutting was easy?
We do, however, need to look at more inventive ways of reducing some of the arduous tasks faced by our staff to make things safer and easier for them. It could be as simple as combining two operations – initially expensive, but not when you look at the cost of the labour versus the investment in machinery. Sometimes it might be as simple as sitting on a machine rather than walking behind it. Good examples of equipment that makes life easier for the operator while increasing productivity are the ATV based ride-on line marker, the stand-on rotary mower, remote control banks mower and the use of front linkages on tractors.
A word of caution at this point: I have in the past seen several examples of locally built adaptations which on the face of it seem a good time-saving idea, but none of them would pass any sort of scrutiny should there be an accident.
Out-front hedge cutter – why not?
The strive for efficiency, better use of the prime mover and the person operating it has seen some innovative ideas coming from the continent. The out-front rotary can be fitted with a flail, power brush or snow plough, increasing its year round use. A Danish company has even produced a front-mounted hedge cutter. It’s not yet in the UK, but that’s only a matter of time.
So is the title of this article applicable to the current state of our industry – when the need for something becomes essential, you are forced to find ways of achieving it. Personally, I think it is, and this should be our point of reference for the future. No longer can we wholly rely on the single task resource. We need to become more multifaceted in our thinking, our staff training and capital investment. In today’s environment, there is no place for the ‘one-trick pony’.
Angus Lindsay, Group Head of Asset & Fleet Management