Career profile - Maintenance Contracts Manager

Many organisations outsource their grounds maintenance. A grounds maintenance contracts manager is in charge of these services for the client, in many cases a council or corporation. Tasks include grass cutting, maintaining hedges and borders, removing weeds and leaves, and maintaining play areas and sports fields.

What is best about being a grounds maintenance contracts manager?

Ground Control group training manager Neil Huck admits there is a perception that ground maintenance is boring. "But it’s not," he insists. "It’s always a challenge dealing with different clients’ requirements. Quite often, working and liaising with them, you end up changing their viewpoints so you end up with a better product." A representative for grounds maintenance firm John O’Conner notes: "It’s good to remember how you helped a client solve a problem." Ground Control regional contracts manager Danny Hope says dealing with clients on a daily basis and working on a variety of different sites is an enjoyable part of the job.

What skills, attributes, knowledge and experience are most in demand for this role in the recruitment market at the moment — and why?

Management/leadership

Managers from both John O’Conner and Ground Control say you need good leadership/management skills. Hope explains: "We won a five-year contract with Severn Trent Water so we took over some TUPE staff members and had to fit them into the mould that we work in." Managing a team also necessitates human resources knowledge, they add.

Horticultural knowledge

John O’Conner and Ground Control say good technical knowledge is required. Huck adds: "You have to know what ‘good’ [horticulture] looks like." Some specialist horticultural knowledge is required. "Understanding how to apply equipment to different terrains to get the right quality of maintenance" is also important, according to John O’Conner.

Customer care

"You have to be able to meet clients’ specifications," says Huck. "Tesco will be different to Sainsbury’s, which will be different to Waitrose. Some clients want to use herbicides, some don’t." The ability to negotiate on site is also important, he adds.

Business and IT skills

Given the logistics involved in managing large contracts, IT skills help, notes Hope, while the John O’Conner representative says it is good to be familiar with price benchmarks.

What sort of qualifications and experience would you need to see from a candidate to be convinced that they possess these qualities?

John O’Conner says candidates ideally need a level 3 work-based diploma in horticulture coupled with three-to-five years’ experience and Institute of Learning Management level 3-7 or equivalent. Huck points to a minimum of a level 3 or 4 diploma in horticulture. Huck and Hope also note that most contracts managers have NPTC PA1 and PA6 pesticide spray certificates as well as health and safety qualifications. Huck says trailblazer apprenticeships standards for horticulture and landscaping (as well as arboriculture and forestry), launched last year, are a new way for the industry to train people as well as a new route to higher-level qualifications that will suit those in senior roles such as contracts manager. So far, some 350 people have enrolled on the level 2 trailblazer apprenticeship, he adds. The framework for level 3 has been outlined and plans are also in the pipeline to develop new management qualifications up to degree level.

Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from any other horticulture roles?

"The skills from landscape contracts manager to grounds maintenance contract manager are transferable," says John O’Conner. Huck adds: "We get people from other companies who may have a background in pure landscaping. The basic skills are there, it’s just a case of adding to them." Hope, who comes from an arboricultural background, says: "At Ground Control we do a lot of in-house training, which gives people skills that are transferable." 


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