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National Horticulture Wages Survey

Barry Lupton shares data from the recent   carried out in conjunction with JobsInHorticulture.ie

We are a data poor sector. Historically, the information we have used to shape strategy, lobby the government and assist companies has largely been based on estimation and best guess. This has frustrated progress, undermined decision making and kept us in our between two stools position. Things are changing. The garden market review carried out in 2014, and shared here, steps closer to the level of data granularity necessary for effective use. The collaborative works under the direction of Retail Excellence Ireland will make huge strides in addressing our data poverty over the coming years. Also, the auditing and contracts work being undertaken by the Irish Association of Landscape Industries will throw light and solutions on the darker corners of the design and construction sectors. Things are changing for the better but as the data below illustrates, we have a long way to go.

THE SURVEY
A sincere word of thanks to all in the industry who took the time to complete the horticulture wages survey. If we are to effectively address the data deficit, we all need to get involved. And more than anything, we need to let go of our cultural tendency toward secrecy, especially when it comes to finance. The first horticultural wage survey was carried out in response to questions posed to me from all quarters. The economic tide is turning, employers want to hire, but no one is sure what a fair wage is. I certainly didn’t. The results shared here are not intended to be definitive. Far from it. They represent the first step. A point of reflection and discussion. I hope you all engage with follow up work.

JUST SHORT OF 200 PEOPLE TOOK THE TIME TO COMPLETE THE SURVEY. THE RESPONDENT DEMOGRAPHICS WERE AS FOLLOWS:
✽ Leinster 53% .Ulster 7% .Munster 28%  .Connacht 12%
✽ 60% were employees and 40% employers
✽ 10% owned large businesses, 30% SME’s and 60% small businesses
✽ 15% were female, 85% were male
✽ 85% were Irish. .15% were non-national (including German, Dutch, Polish, British and Romanian)
✽ 55% were involved in landscape contracting, 10% in landscape architecture and design, 15% in amenity production, 15% in garden retailing, and 5% each for sports, arboriculture and edible production
✽ Of the age categories, which spanned from 25-74, it was the 35-44 year category which was the most significant with 35%

THERE ARE FEW SURPRISES IN THE DEMOGRAPHIC DATA, WHICH TENDS TO REFLECT GENERAL ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE STRUCTURE OF THE INDUSTRY.

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE
A graduate landscape architect can expect to receive between €20,000 and €30,000 per annum, which is in line with general expectations. A landscape architect with two years experience can expect to receive between €30-40,000 per annum, but this should be viewed in light of comments from three respondents, who stated that in reality wages for experienced LA’s remain below the €30,000 mark. One employer noted that they prefer to offer lower wages and higher holiday entitlements. This might reflect the general uncertainty of the sector and the challenges for employers to keep a consistent flow of work. The data revealed confusion around wages for chartered LA’s with the range running from €40-70,000. Again this is reflective of the industry and potentially those in full-time employment, self-employment and the public sector. Perhaps it is time for the Irish Landscape Institute to tackle the thorny subject of wages and fees?

LANDSCAPE CONTRACTING
A landscape operative with no experience will be employed at a minimum, or just above minimum wage; and unlike other domains, comments centred on rates per hour rather than salary. New operatives should expect anywhere from €9.50 to €11 per hour. Perhaps surprisingly, location did not play into wage levels, with some rural based employers paying more than their urban counterparts. Experienced landscape operatives with more than three years experience should expect around €25,000 salary. Experienced landscape project managers can expect anything from €25-40,000 with 60% selecting the lower bracket and 40% the higher. A contractor with more than ten years experience can reasonably expect a salary in the region of €30-40,000. But it must be noted that 20% selected the €25-32,000 and €39-46,000 ranges. Again, there is uncertainty in the market. One respondent noted horticulture students have little applicable knowledge for contracting. This reflects a perennial problem in the landscape sector: it’s hard to find a good plants-person and builder in one. Maybe it’s time for the educational institutions to reflect on what they are training people for? Many graduates are encouraged into the design/build sector and I would tend to agree with the respondent, many are ill prepared for their domains. I often receive calls from horticulturalists looking to train in building and design, and builders looking to build plant knowledge. There is an opportunity here.

GREENKEEPING AND SPORTS
There were a limited number of respondents in this domain but they agree. Graduate greenkeepers can expect in the region of €20-25,000, those with experience may command €27-28,000 and head greenkeepers in the region of €30,000.

It would be valuable to extend this survey to test if this really reflects wage levels and to compare them to international rates. As the data stands, opportunities for increased earnings in this sector are extremely poor, and in my opinion, hardly reflective of the specialist knowledge, skills and commitment necessary for the job nor the wealth orientated domain they work in. One respondent noted that it is high time that greenkeepers came together to form a network/union.

GARDEN RETAILING
From the data, it would appear that qualifications and experience do not factor in wage levels for garden centre sales assistants. Levels for those without experience or qualification all remain below €25,000. Take note, those of you pursuing greenkeeping qualifications. One respondent noted the seasonal, part time nature of such employment, giving their annual part time salary at €11,000. A manager of a small to medium sized centre should expect between €40-50,000 per annum while a plant area manager in the region of €25-32,000. One garden centre owner stated that they were drawing no wage from their business. Another stated that they’d been managing small garden centres for years and our options did not reflect reality: they should be much lower. They added that intern placements were decimating wages, to the extent that they are now seeking employment elsewhere. It would be interesting to explore this harsh reality further. How many owners of SME’s in our sector are actually being paid? Perhaps the REI group will investigate in the coming months.

NURSERIES
Unqualified nursery operatives should expect €18-23,000, while those with experience and qualification can command in the region of €25-30,000 or more. While these figures reflect the majority of respondent selections, it must be noted that two respondents commented €25,000 would be the maximum. A qualified and experienced nursery manager will command an annual salary of between €35-45,000. This is the same for a manager without qualification but with much experience. One employee with a qualification noted they are paid an annual salary of €16,000. An employer noted wages are low for qualified workers as they just don’t have the skills to command more. Similar to the contracting sector, some employers feel graduates are not being equipped with the right skill set. An emergent question from this should be levelled at students, institutions and employers: what are you doing about the apparent disconnect between industry needs and curricula?

ARBORICULTURE
A limited number of professionals responded to the survey from the domain of arboriculture. Based on the data, a graduate arborist can expect in the region of €25,000 while an experienced arborist should expect in the region of €35,000. I was asked during the survey why I did not include questions relating to unqualified arborists’ wages. I specifically left these out as the field demands a high degree of practical training, expertise and equipment. It is unfortunate for experienced and qualified arborists that their field is so undermined by cowboys and black marketeers.

While the domain does command marginally better wages, more needs to be done to protect and increase them by tackling the black market.

WAGES FOR CONTRACT WORKERS
The seasonality of this sector requires contract workers. This is an economic necessity but one which is the root of many of the problems facing business owners and employees alike. It is not so much the pay rates and employment insecurity which cause problems, it is the restrictions, inflexibility, obligations and entitlements enshrined in our employment legislation which undermines the landscape. More people responded to this section than any other in the survey, unsurprisingly given our focus on annual salaries. The data showed little disparity of hourly wage rates between Dublin and the rest of the country. Contract workers should expect to be paid anywhere from €8.65 to €13 per hour depending on experience. It is somewhat interesting that the highest and lowest rates of pay were both recorded in Munster (where a location was identified). One employer did note a rate of €15 per hour for a technician. Based on data spread, it is reasonable for a contract worker to achieve €11 per hour.

WHY EMPLOYERS HIRE
From the data, it would appear that qualifications are not a major factor in influencing decisions to hire or not when compared to other factors. Only 5% felt it important compared to 45% who listed experience, and 20% who listed personal qualities. 30% said that all three factors were important. Several respondents added comments including the importance of work ethics and how experience is more important than anything else. One noted that the ‘knock on the door’ was vital and that emailed CVs go straight to the bin.

BARRIERS TO HIRING AND POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS
There would appear to be a wide range of factors limiting job off”ers. Below are the most frequently noted with the potential solution from respondents mapped appropriately.

Barriers to employment –
✽ Suggested solutions

Seasonality and fluctuation in levels of work –
✽Make it easier to hire and fire
✽Apply employer PRSI annually rather than weekly
✽Permit school goers to work in horticulture during the summer for below minimum wage as is done in Holland

Costs associated with training and compliance –
✽Reduce and simplify health and safety obligations

Time and costs associated with employee related paperwork, PRSI, USC, TAX –
✽Development of a streamlined system
✽Change the redundancy system
✽Simplify the system of employing experienced people of social welfare without impacting their status
✽All employees should be self-employed

Long term obligations on employers
✽Make it easier to hire and fire
✽Change the redundancy system

Disincentive culture – easier for people to be unemployed
✽Creation of an intermediary payment system which encourages people o¥ welfare
✽Government sponsored schemes to encourage people to gain experience
✽Widen the gap between minimum wages and welfare entitlements
✽Revenue inspectors to tackle the black market

Poor levels of practical experience
✽Link Jobsbridge to qualifications

Unwillingness of Irish people to make an investment in a career
✽No suggestions

From the data, we can infer that the seasonal and fluctuating nature of the sector is at odds with the inflexible and cumbersome employment legislation. One size does not fit all and it certainly doesn’t fit horticulture. It would be very interesting to explore this area in more depth to understand how other countries such as Holland tackle the issue.

WHAT EMPLOYEES SEEK
We offered employees three choices preferences: wages, quality and variety of work, and career progression. Wages were the most important at 40% but only marginally. The quality of work and progression came in at 28% and 32% respectively. One respondent added that relationships with other staff” were very important.

BARRIERS TO TAKING UP EMPLOYMENT
Below are the most frequently cited barriers noted by employees and job seekers to taking up employment in horticulture
• Limited availability of suitable jobs
• Working in family run businesses
• Limited avenues for progression
• Limited opportunities required and accepted
• Low standards of work
Extent of the black market
• CE schemes, Jobsbridge and internships
• Poor wages
• Insecurity and unpredictability of work
Inflexibility of the welfare system – non-recognition of seasonality
• Limited recognition or acknowledgement nationally of the skills required
• Better protection for self-employed.

ADVICE FROM EMPLOYEES TO EMPLOYERS
• Only employ qualified sta”ff
• If you pay poor wages you will get poor workers
• More focus on planning, quality and work environment
• Improve the quality of work you demand
• Stop using Jobsbridge for cheap employees
• Invest more in training
• Ensure hours are fairly allocated in the seven-day retail week

ADVICE FOR JOBSEEKERS
Like the previous question, this also attracted much attention. From the data, advice is crystal clear: if you are seeking employment in horticulture you need a positive, can do attitude, a commitment to work and learn, honesty about experience and qualification. Be prepared to work hard in tough conditions, be flexible and motivated and show up on time and well presented. One respondent noted they require a week’s trial and that the decision to employ is based on feedback from permanent sta”ff members. Seems like an altogether sensible suggestion to me.

FINAL THOUGHTS FROM ALL SIDES
For a career most follow because of their passion, there are a lot of unhappy people out there. From the comments, there appears to be extreme dissatisfaction with wage levels across the board. Employees, especially those who spent several years studying, feel let down, with many respondents having left or seeking to leave the sector altogether. Respondents feel undervalued and under appreciated. They feel their skills and knowledge are not recognised nationally. In terms of what we should be doing about it, there is much consensus. We need government backed apprenticeship courses in all sectors of horticulture including design. We need to focus on the quality of the work we do. Increase it. We need a greater connection between sub sectors to facilitate mobility and progress, for instance, garden design to landscape architecture. We need more mediums for discussion. We need to pull horticulture away from the CE schemes and we need more part time training options so working people can up skill without giving up their jobs.