Some of the Primary Tree Surgeons team, taking time out for refresher training

Like many industries, ours has been affected by the profound changes that have taken place in the labour market since the COVID pandemic; recruiting into vacant roles wasn’t straightforward before the health crisis but things seem to be even more challenging now.

What’s behind it all in arb?  Talking to potential candidates, our newest recruits, our contacts in the land-based training training providers and our peers, there seem to be a number of reasons making the difference:

Schools don’t talk about the wonderful breadth of opportunity and roles in Arboriculture (or Horticulture); if there is any discussion at all, a career in arb is still pitched as something for the non-academic or school “failure”.

Working outdoors isn’t for everyone; we’re competing with service businesses, retail warehousing, hospitality and call centres for trainees.

Where there were once waiting lists, colleges aren’t getting the numbers through the practical competency-based courses that they once did.  And they no longer ensure that students come out of the courses with their basic competency-based qualifications either.  On top of that, the the courses are now much more expensive than they were even 3 years ago and candidates have to pay for each of their competency-basd certificates.

Becoming a competent practiticing arborist (despite the competency based qualifications offered at college) takes at least two years post-qualifying, in our experience.  Small businesses abound in arb.  The prevailing model is one and two-man bands who have neither the appetite nor the reources to employ and support a newly-qualified arborist with very limited or no practical work experience.

Expectations of working lives and rewards have changed; many people training in arb aim for a life of self-employment and with that, notions of freedom in many and varied ways.  They perceive only the “price” of employment (examples might be compliance, structure, misguided ideas about limited earnings capacity) and none of the rewards (security of employment and earnings, employment benefits, working with others in a team, to say nothing of the essential safety aspects and sheer good fun in effective team working).

What’s the answer?  Part of any answer must be about taking a long term – and some might also argue, an old-fashioned – approach to recrutiment, employment and training. 

That means commmitting to finding, employing, paying and training young people who choose to stay because they are supported, properly paid, encouraged and enabled to develop in meaningful work, with a sense of prode about providing a good, safe service and within an established team of experts who themselves are also committed to supporting trainees to develop. 

It’s a big ask of any team but in the absence of a magic wand, it’s the best practical solution we’ve found over the years and we’re proud of the many young men (don’t get us started on the lack of female representation in the business) who have joined us to become expert – the arborists, team leaders, mentors and on-the-job trainers – with the combined support and mentoring they’ve received from within our team.

For advice and a quote for work to your trees and hedges, contact Andrew on 01256 817369; 07771 883061 or email him at