Director of Arbjobs Nick Pott questions the claim that employers are struggling to recruit because of a shortage of qualified candidates. Rather, the problem is a failure to offer competitive salary and benefits.

HAVING run a specialist arboricultural jobs board for 25 years, Nick Pott knows there are plenty of willing employees out there.

His site gets around 3–4,000 visitors a month and all he promotes are tree-care jobs. Based on recent salary analysis he thinks the issue may be that many employers are out of sync with increased salary rates and that if a company fails to offer competitive benefits, that will negatively affect their applicant levels. The end result may appear to be a staff shortage when in reality the issue is very different.

With increased levels of communication, staff are now a mere click away from a better offer, so to recruit or simply retain staff it is important to remain a competitive employer.

Following a detailed six-year review of salary data, Arbjobs has just released a valuable arborist salary study that shows that although average arboricultural salaries increased by 3.83 per cent in 2023 from 2022, inflation leaped by 7.66 per cent.


Simply put, if you look at the average UK arborist salary since 2018, arboriculture is not competing with other industries or inflation, leaving many small companies struggling to recruit, while staff gravitate to established firms with the ability to offer better pay and/or benefits. 

The data was collated from upper and lower salary levels entered for job roles promoted on Arbjobs. Trainee and apprentice data was stripped away to leave just full-time arborist positions. The remaining information was then analysed to produce results based on job roles and regional differences, giving the industry its first real datum point from which to assess a range of UK arborist salaries.

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Nick is keen to point out much of the data discussed is based on a UK average taken from the higher and lower pay scales entered by employers. If a company wants to run a successful recruitment campaign, it will need to base its benefit package on the higher-end salary data, not the UK average. 

The review shows arborist salaries vary across the UK, with London and the South East paying the highest levels while the northern counties and South West seem to be offering the lowest. Nick explained that despite higher salaries, many companies are still struggling to attract workers to the more affluent areas. Even with the better rates of pay being offered, staff simply can’t afford to live in some areas. In Stockholm, Sweden, some companies offer their staff help with accommodation and this is now being adopted by some UK-based employers. 

If you amalgamate and average higher-end UK arborist salaries you can see they have gone from £32,557 in 2018 to £36,817 in 2023. These increased rates are a particular issue for many local authorities and utility companies whose budgets have been set based on historical levels, with salary rates now being viewed as uncompetitive. Nick has sympathy for these groups. It will take time for budgets to be amended to accommodate increased salaries, but this isn’t something that can be resolved quickly and is especially hard when the entire country is struggling with a very unstable economy. 

However, there is some good news. In the last six years, average ground-staff salaries have grown significantly, from £25,500 in 2018 to £30,228 in 2023, not far behind the climbers’ average rates of £32,000. Perhaps this represents increased expectations due to legislation requiring ground staff to hold rescue qualifications along with increased productivity as they fulfil a role as a second or sub climber within the team. 

The data would support the notion that companies are also valuing a more rounded tree surgeon with various skills above a pure climber, with both salaries in 2023 now averaging around £32,000, compared to 2019 when the average tree surgeon’s salary was £3,000 lower than a climber’s. What is the difference? Well, Nick thinks during boom times pure climbers were in high demand to get productivity up. With the economy slowing, firms are favouring the term ‘tree surgeon’ when recruiting to attract staff willing to do a range of duties, including but not limited to climbing.

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Experienced managers and team leaders can expect to earn the most in any contracting team, with average salaries peaking at £37,315 in 2023. Yet it appears these staff do remain elusive. Many experienced team leaders broke away from employers in the buoyant lockdown years to set up on their own. A quick review of Companies House now sees an alarming level of arb companies closing. Hopefully some of these supervisory staff will return to full-time employment as their skills and experience are highly desirable.

We asked Nick if he had any advice to give employers struggling to recruit or retain staff. He said: “Money is always a contributing factor with any job role. Staff rightly expect to be recompensed for their hard work. However, I do not advocate throwing larger salaries at anyone. Once they have it, what is the motivation for work?

“If you can, sit down with team members and work out a fair bonus system based on productivity, quality and costs. But it’s no good introducing a productivity bonus if the staff then smash up your kit or throw customer care out of the window to achieve it. If a sound bonus system can be implemented, then improved productivity benefits the staff as well as yourself. Staff will hopefully take an interest and a level of ownership in the success of the company because they now share a vested interest.”

What else could help? “There are other benefits staff desire. Job safety and security, ongoing training and career progression are all benefits any good employer should be offering, yet many fail to highlight to staff. Staff will be motivated by different things. Some are very career driven, while others are just happy doing what they do and want to be given the right tools for the job and to have nice safe and secure employment. 

“Only through regular and open discussions with staff can an employer gain knowledge in what motivates each member of the team. Even small companies should do this. Ignoring your team’s needs can lead to an unhappy workplace and staff attrition.”

So, what can we take away from this salary data? Despite the highly certified status of UK arb workers, the average arboricultural salary remains behind other UK industries which increased by 5.8 per cent in 2022–2023 and both continue to fall behind inflation. Failure to keep abreast of salary increases since 2018 has left some sectors of the industry struggling to find and retain staff. The South East and London remain the highest paid areas, but that comes with an increased cost of living.