A fresh design for a landscape is an exciting site as we begin to realise how much potential lies within each piece of land. But how much will its transformation cost? This is where the role of a landscape estimator comes into play. They must price up every little detail — from how long a project is likely to take to the cost of every piece of hard and soft landscaping proposed for the scheme. In some companies, this is a dual role tied with that of landscape projects/contracts manager.
What is best about being a landscape estimator?
Oak View Landscapes managing director Paul Downer highlights the great variety of projects. "Even if on paper your project looks similar to the last one, there’ll be some element that is different — soil type, access issues and local conditions." Ground Control group training manager Neil Huck adds that landscape estimators are fortunate to be able to see a job through from start to finish. "Specialist people will
be brought in on occasion but the estimator will be there most of the
time to make sure that the contract is running to specification."
What skills, attributes, knowledge and experience are most in demand for this role in the recruitment market at the moment — and why?
Substantial landscaping experience
Both Huck and Downer point to substantial practical landscaping experience. "The people in this sort of job are those who understand exactly how landscapes are built and put together," Downer explains.
In a commercial world "you have to get it bang on", Downer points out. But when you are estimating it is very easy to miss something. "You really have got to be very precise, accurate and methodical. The biggest risk you’ve got is missing something and getting the price wrong, especially as most clients want to tie you to a fixed-price contract, so you cannot go back. That’s where the practical judgement comes into play."
Communication skills/horticultural knowledge
Huck says estimators are "teasing out what the client wants", be that in a domestic or a commercial situation. Sufficient horticultural knowledge helps estimators to "understand and meet the clients’ requirements".
Estimators have to be "good with Excel spreadsheets", says Huck, explaining that they use them to price up and keep track of jobs.
What sort of qualifications and experience would you need to see from a candidate to be convinced that they possess these qualities?
While there is no set route that leads people to this role, most would hold at least a level 3 or 4 work-based NVQ in horticulture, says Huck. He adds that following the 2017 launch of the new trailblazer apprenticeships standards for horticulture and landscaping (as well as arboriculture and forestry), new higher- and degree-level contract management qualifications are set to be developed. Downer adds that a background or qualification in quantity surveying would help. Both Huck and Downer emphasise the need for substantial practical landscaping experience. "Different people come into this role from different routes," says Downer. "But whatever their route in, you cannot beat practical experience. Even if you are at a senior level in a company, if you’ve not worked on the ground at the grass roots, you soon get found out. You might know it in theory but not in practice."
Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from any other horticulture roles?
"Yes, there’s a good crossover," Downer answers. "For example, a senior landscape projects manager with a background in landscape construction and experience of running a project on the ground could become an estimator if they have a systemised and methodical approach." Huck adds that Ground Control has estimators working in its arboriculture department for clients such as Network Rail who come from a horticulture rather than a tree work background.