Pay rates for trained staff

Check out this job advert:

Grower - Horticulture
Recruiter: Millgarden
Location: Dorset
Salary: £15,000 - £20,000 DOE
Closing Date: 04 Feb 2017
Find out more & apply »

These guys are advertising for a 'grower'. By definition, this person will be trained at the very least. And, to be confident enough to take on their role, they will have to have experience. £15-20K???  Can you raise a family on that? Can you afford a reasonable - REASONABLE - lifestyle on that sort of money?  Frankly; NO!  £15K is £7.21/hour on a 40 hour week or £7.79 per hour on a 37 hour week.  That is floor sweeping money. You can't legally pay much less.

This is just an example of the long-standing disdain that the horticultural trade is held in.

Today, in a world where very few people are prepared to get their hands dirty, practical skills are becoming rarer.  Surely now the time has come for practical, skilled tradespeople to assert themselves on the market.  Any business is only as good as the staff it employs. If you employ unskilled, clueless staff your product will suffer.

I strongly feel that this sort of pay grade is barely defensible in today's economy, regardless of your trade or profession. But to require someone to have skills and experience and to settle for such a crippling wage is simply exploitative.

If you are a horticultural graduate I would urge you to shun this sort of 'opportunity'. If you are an employer I strongly urge you to look to your business model. You aren't doing your business any favours and you are casting your business in a very bad light. Your clients would be appalled to know what you are paying skilled staff - I know; I have had to have the uncomfortable discussions with clients on behalf of a previous employer myself.

Our market is divided between expenditure bands. The nationwide companies, cutting grass on a 3% margin and employing seasonal staff can get away with paying 'living wage' or less - although your middle management will spend a stupid proportion of their time firefighting and handling complaints - maybe that's the role you've given them, but it's hardly productive.

If you're catering to the private sector your clients are probably expecting more. You won't get anything from someone who's content to work for minimum wage. You need people with drive and ambition. AND skills. £7.70/hr to, at best £10.39 per hour for a 37hr week? Think about it,

If you consider that your client base would choose not to afford the fees necessary to pay your staff according to their skills then maybe you shouldn't be attempting to work for them. Would you, as a sole trader, work for peanuts? Not unless you were content to live in poverty, work yourself to early decrepitude, and stay exactly in that hopeless, futureless position to the day you retired to your sheltered accommodation.

Our trade needs to pull itself up to the paying rank of all the other practical trades. The skills are different and many people think they can do it. However, they are paying us to do work they don't want to do. Furthermore, as any knowledgeable tradesman will be able to tell you, there's a world of difference between (for instance) being able to use a pair of secateurs and knowing how and when to prune a particular shrub/fruit bush/fruit tree.

Pay trained staff decent, incentivising pay. Our entire trade will benefit, from the individuals at the coal face to the trade's attractiveness to intelligent, driven applicants. Our output will improve and the paying clients will eventually respect skill and knowledge.

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  • PRO

    I cannot vouch for this information but the research site sets out gardener pays scales for both US and UK

    • You are also just looking at the headline pay. there is also mention of bonus. assuming they are a decent employer they will be paying holiday, sick pay and more.

      we have had staff discuss daily pay rates that there mates get working for other contractors, however on many occasions they dont get paid regularly, get a full weeks pay or get phoned to say there is no work today so youre not getting paid, no holiday pay etc. i assume thats why my guys all stay with me. loyalty works both ways and you need to look after your staff and value them, but its the full package that counts not just the salary

  • PRO

    I've looked at the original ad and thought it was good. They seem to be looking for keen lightly experienced people that are going for a career. They are highlighting training, the working environment, bonus, family atmosphere etc, so it seems to me they are making good noises and on the face of it, would be a good nurturing place of employment.

    Salary seems to be OK too for someone with not a lot, but some experience. At the end of the day, it's all a marketplace driven by supply and demand both ends. Some of us could work in London in other industries earning "loads a money", but choose not too.

    This industry is about the whole package, and includes many vocational lifestyle aspects which attract people. The headline salary is often not the highest priority from my interviewing experience.

  • PRO

    Through a combination of government subsidies and population growth keeping unemployment relatively high, plus wage arbitration via employment of immigrants, people are willing to work for that kind of money. Don't blame the grower, blame the country you live in. And move to Norway if you'd prefer. Or take it to it's logical conclusion and move to PRC. Not everyone can be a winner.

    Whilst I agree that it's nice for individual business  owners to buck the trend, this often manifests itself as virtue signalling to the customer in order to win more work at over the top rates- think fair trade. If you really do provide a top notch service, and pay well, then hats off. Market forces dictate that when 10% of clients pay this rate, the other 90% seek out cheaper services, and therefore most gardening companies chase this much larger market. The idea of converting everyone to a 'fair trade' model is a pie in the sky fallacy, that completely ignores human nature. You end up with communism that way.

    Another thing to consider is that there are currently thousands of economic migrants in Europe desperate to reach Britain. Desperate for a slice of the £7.70 an hour pie. If you want wages to rise sustainably, you need to consider the fact that we already have net unemployment of around 5%, and higher in the unskilled (and young) population. So a limit upon immigration would be needed.

    You can't really equate gardening with other trades such as plumbing or electrical. People die if you get that wrong. Yes, there are levels of skill involved in gardening. Most clients aren't interested. Don't whinge about it, see it for what it is and either capitalise on it with duplication via employment, or chase the top payers with your horticultural degree. Also, the building trade is so buoyant, with the associated rates, because people have a fetish for housing ownership and this country and they don't want the bubble to burst. So they get a massive mortgage, and throw it at home improvements because the TV shows tell them that increases the value of the property. The garden comes last, always. Again, market forces.

    • I have no rose-tinted glasses here. I have experienced all sides of this argument. I started my career at the bottom as a general hand on a nursery. I know the motivations that allow the industry to pay low wages, but pay has slumped significantly in real terms since I began.

      I have watched enthusiastic school leavers and, more recently, immigrant staff start off just happy to 'have the job', only to watch their enthusiasm dissipate and their entire work ethic sink to the level at which they're being paid. Immigrants especially start off comparing what we're paying them with what they'd earn in their home country. Then they come to understand the difference in living costs and realise they're being exploited.

      I've worked for companies that have had such poor staff relations, with the guys effectively on a work to rule, that the business runs a wholly inefficient process.

      On the other hand I have had direct experience of how paying the higher rates and getting the right staff in changes the whole work ethos and the quality of your output. The business model becomes vastly more efficient. And your middle management spends far less time resolving complaints and far more time helping move the business forwards.

      Going back to my original point though, when prices go up your customer base changes. it depends what sort of business you want to pursue, of course. But the lower your margin the less you can pay, the less you pay the poorer your staff - both fiscally and usually in output/talent/attitude. The poorer your staff, the poorer the quality of your product.

      If at the end of the day one is not interested in anything other than the tiny bottom line and one is building the scale of the business to compensate so that the one, at least, has a good living, maybe none of this matters. I'm not talking to that person because they're very unlikely to have any interest in promoting anything other than their own personal profits. The whole industry is forced down by that attitude.

      Lastly, we're not talking about just 'gardening' here; I'm encompassing everything that the horticultural industries undertake, from feeding the country to constructing safe environments for the public. Frequently, your staff have to be multi-skilled and full of initiative and, frequently, we find ourselves undertaking work that the building industry (for instance) would be charging far more for - but public expectations have been conditioned to believe that it's OK to pay 'the gardeners' much less.

      • PRO

        "If at the end of the day one is not interested in anything other than the tiny bottom line and one is building the scale of the business to compensate so that the one, at least, has a good living, maybe none of this matters. I'm not talking to that person because they're very unlikely to have any interest in promoting anything other than their own personal profits. The whole industry is forced down by that attitude."

        That's a somewhat sweeping statement. By your reasoning, the whole catering industry is 'forced down' by McDonalds. I should think any Michelin starred restaurant would beg to differ. There are different levels of quality and service- it's the free market.

        "Lastly, we're not talking about just 'gardening' here; I'm encompassing everything that the horticultural industries undertake, from feeding the country to constructing safe environments for the public. Frequently, your staff have to be multi-skilled and full of initiative and, frequently, we find ourselves undertaking work that the building industry (for instance) would be charging far more for - but public expectations have been conditioned to believe that it's OK to pay 'the gardeners' much less"

        This doesn't make much sense. If you're building a wall, for example, and to the correct standard, then you are a builder for the day, and the pay rate will reflect that if you are pricing work correctly. Are you saying that because you are labelling yourself a gardener, then you struggle to get more pay for other jobs? Bad marketing. Start calling yourself a builder or a landscaper, and charge to suit.

        Yes, the pay for gardening is relatively low. It's because it's a trade with low entry barriers as much as any other factor. Anyone with a mower and estate car can be a gardener, and I commend those who do this rather than sit on benefits, even if their rates are undermining mine. We all had to start somewhere.

        I agree that sourcing quality staff and paying better can be a revelation when targeting higher paying work. I respectfully disagree that there is anything wrong with providing a service at the cheaper end of the scale and employing many people on lower wages to provide a profit. If you want to provide 'social justice' then rather than just encouraging inflation via an effective raise in the minimum wage (you're saying everyone should pay their staff more) I'd say start by fixing the housing crisis and stopping all unskilled (I'm talking doctor level skill) immigration.

        I'm not entirely at cross purposes with you here, either. Whilst my gardening guys are on relatively low pay, I do try to treat them well. They get all their work clothes washed, I bought them a cheap car for commuting, I provide free snacks and drinks from cash and carry and I keep them busy all year round. They also got a nice Christmas bonus each.

        • PRO

          This pay structure is not unusual in other industries --

          super market retail is the same -- minimum wage or just slightly higher for trained and skilled staff who have to undertake huge pressures in their work day 

          catering and hospitality is much the same -- horrendous hours and working conditions for again very little over minimum wage (often signing a disclaimer on annual salary that work hours would exceed 48 hrs a week)

          And Michel Roux was only caught short paying his staff at 2 Michelin start level last month ! 

          Contentious but isnt this why we voted to leave Europe ? These job posts have often been held low due to willing non Uk citizens , I worked in kitchens for 10 years and would suggest across the board 50% non uk workforce would be average to low - 

          With a reduction in people taking these jobs - wages have to go up to attract applicants. 

          And regarding British horticultural production - now the import costs have risen 10-15 % in six months - surely it makes a good case for greater UK production in competition 

  • I can only speak for my area of the industry but I increasingly feel that I should charge what is a fair wage for my knowledge as well as my physical expertise at pruning or whatever. It annoys me when people don't want to pay more than £10 an hour, say, for a job because they probably don't really 'rate' the garden as important enough to spend a lot on or don't see the job required as that skilful. I have often heard it referred to on a level with cleaning.

    Also, of course, the trouble with gardens is that the grass and the weeds keep on growing, whereas what you pay a plumber or a builder you can basically see lasting for some time to come, perhaps for many decades or even centuries in the case of what a builder does.

    I know many independent gardeners, maybe who just work for themselves and don't carry a lot of overheads like vans and staff, charge higher rates like £20 an hour, in the London area at least, and one I know charges £25 and only likes to work with keen gardeners. I can see why. They appreciate the value of what you're doing. They know that even if you're just cutting grass that can be a pretty skilful job (although I think he sees that as part of an overall plan to improve a garden with more planting). Potentially, in the case of the grass example, you can have a hell of a green sward out there if you're prepared to pay someone to spend the time on it. Not many are of course. I've lost count of the weedy, mossy ones that some people are happy to have because 'at least it's green'. Or the clients who have a little knowledge like one of mine who wants me to spike the lawn because it often gets waterlogged even though I have no sand or sandy soil to put in the holes. (That client doesn't like me walking any equipment to speak of through his house and I have to wear overshoes as I go through so I don't push many of the ideas I could give him. His whole garden is also tiny.)

    Garden designers also get paid a decent wage but the 'labourers' who actually do the work don't get much of the glory or the majority of the money I dare say.

    It seems there are lots of pay levels in the horticultural industry but I agree it isn't right that so many seem to be so low. There are so many skills being utilised throughout the industry, some that have taken years to learn, and they should all be getting paid for it. Of course, nurses might say the same thing, but look at their wages.

  • Looking at this interesting thread and the informed posts reminded me of why I took the self-employed gardener/landscaper route into our industry. The starting of a business is a very steep learning curve and forget about making much money in the first year or so - you might also like me use up much of your reserves as well. However, now eight or nine years on I can sit back and know I have a solid and for the most part profitable business with many good contracts and contacts, as well as hard learnt skills. What I'm saying is what is the point of applying for these low paid type jobs when you can make double or treble to salary by going alone? Certainly there are specialist jobs where it make sense to work for an employer, but overall I believe it is better to get a van, print some business cards up and get to work.

  • Whilst I agree with many of the points given in this thread, I also feel that this sector of business is it's own worst enemy in many respects, especially with regards to marketing. To many businesses are concerned with getting as much work as possible, and place their prices in a band where they think they are competitive with their direct competitors, instead of trying to differentiate and create value to the service or products they provide.

    Its a well know fact that there are five competitive forces acting on every business to a larger or smaller degree, and one needs to form a strategy that will gain the best possible results from those competitive forces.

    The competitive forces are: New market entrants, Power of the business over the customer or visa versa, Power of supplier over your business or visa versa, Alternative markets, and the Direct competitors.

    If the business management can analyse these competitive forces and and come up with a marketing strategy to alleviate the competition, then produce marketing material that will apply to the highest paying and most profitable customers, then the business should have healthy profit margins and be able to afford to pay higher wages.

    I know from previous research that the average GPM in the maintenance sector is 40%, but I have also seen many businesses obtaining much lower margins, and a few getting much higher margins. Surely, the whole idea of a business is that it should make a profit, and the higher the better for all concerned within that business.

    Good marketing is all about making potential customers believe that they are purchasing a service that is superior to most other providers, and that it is worth the customer paying a higher price for this better service. The value of a service is not the cost+margin=price, but what the service is worth to the customer. In a lot of cases small businesses underestimate what their worth is to the customer, and if the truth be known the customer would have accepted a higher price in the first place. 

    Good businesses price their services / products to obtain a smaller amount of high paying customers rather than a lot of low paying customers. This can only be done by good marketing and knowing how to target potential customers that fit your business model.


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