Languard - A behind the scenes look at what makes us tick.
We are into February of the new year and already 2007 is a blur in the memory. Where did it go? If we are all honest I doubt that anyone in the sports turf or landscaping industries has a good thing to say about 2007. The unrelenting rain, the impossible mission to keep grass growth in check, The unstoppable growth of weeds everywhere, the flooding and the Thematic Strategy from the EU all made '07 one to forget. So what holds for 2008? With a new year always comes hope. Hope that the lessons learnt in the previous year will stick. There also comes hope - hope for many things, both business and personal that will make the year one to remember for the high points rather than abandoning the memories for the perpetual lows. So for a start to the year I thought I'd ask my colleagues at Languard Ltd what they thought the year would hold.
A little background.
Will Kay took over Languard in 1985. I asked him why, and what he was setting out to do when he became managing director. A Yorkshire man by birth Will is plain in his response " I wanted to secure the long term future for the company. Establish firm foundations and develop a strong business with real prospects for the future. And make the odd bob or two." This straight forward approach has worked.
The company has flourished since it's humble beginnings and become one of the largest providers of specialist vegetation management in the UK. I asked Will how he did this, is there a secret? Actually, no.
" Bring good people together and get the best out of them." It's a good formula, as Languard has enjoyed steady growth and the staff have grown with it. We like to find good people and keep them. Our longest serving spray operator - Maurice, has been with us eighteen years and counting, and is fairly typical of the staff we have. Our guys enjoy the freedom they are given to get on with the job, the responsibility of what this involves, and the range of work they get involved in - we are a very broad church.
Diversity - the key to satisfaction!
Languard is privileged. We work in the most diverse areas that it is possible to in terms of amenity weed control. This is very important to us as we get involved I many different things, which makes work interesting and often challenging. Most of our work is in the urban environment. It is highly likely that we have treated the weeds that grow along your road, or in the towns and city you live in. Every year we treat over 100,000 kilometers of footpaths across all parts of the UK which is a considerable logistical task. I asked our contracts manager Andy Kay how we manage to do it? " sometimes I'm not sure how we do…" said Andy, " flexibility and the ability to react to circumstances helps, especially after the year we had last year - that was a real test." Andy added "the continued rain meant we had to send our teams to drier areas to make sure we didn't disappoint our clients, with the weather we had we were reacting day by day rather than week by week." The key Andy explains is communication. "The client has to know what you are planning to do and if the weather stops the plan, what the contingency is". The main hope that Andy has in 2008? "Easy - normal weather - whatever that is".
You might not have thought it but invasive weeds are big in the winter months. Sites for development and building that are infested with Japanese Knotweed require removal of the Knotweed rhizomes all year round, whenever the developer wishes to break ground. This is involving work as strict conditions need to be followed to ensure that the trickiest weed there is to control doesn't spread even further. Our operatives direct the digger and enforce and manage quarantine zones on site. These ensure that the rhizome doesn't spread within the site, as one thumbnail section can spawn a whole new colony. The site supervisors organise transport to the selected dump and then make sure that all the equipment is cleaned down to make sure nothing that can cause re growth is left. This can be difficult work - it carries on regardless of the weather, so standing in a wet hole in winter looking for plant roots takes a certain kind of man.
The Japanese Knotweed problem is growing far faster than it is being controlled. If there is one key aspect of knotweed control we do hope improves in 2008 is the awareness of developers and local authorities alike that Japanese Knotweed cannot be eradicated in one year without physical removal. Knotweed has it's own agenda and evolving on the side of a volcano has equipped it well to resist our efforts to persuade it to stop growing. The earlier access to a site can be given, the more money can be saved on treating this significant problem.
Verges and banks that are an integral part of our motorway network. Very little attention is paid to them as they are just part of the background of any trip from A to B. The verges and banks of our main roads are a valuable resource. In times of emergency they are a safe place off the carriageway. They are also a wildlife corridor and resource for biodiversity. This means they need to be managed for two important purposes - ensure the safety of the traveling public - a safe refuge, and provide a habitat with value to allow biodiversity to flourish. Achieving both these aims is difficult. It involves recognising and preserving the features of a habitat that are of value, conserving and promoting them and improving areas that are of low value. Languard perform three specialist activities on highways. We manage grass growth using grass growth regulation techniques. We control weed growth beneath barriers and around structures. We also perform selective weed control to prevent tall weeds obscuring barriers and signage. The highway network is a specialist place to work that needs dedicated qualified people, and some of the most serious spraying kit there is.
To perform this work more training is involved. After completing an HGV class C driving test there is the network induction training and also Sector Scheme safety courses to complete. The equipment to perform highways vegetation control is highly specialised - crash cushion equipped to protect from impact if an accident occurs, and adapted to spray a range of treatments from grass growth regulators such as Primo Maxx to selective herbicides and Roundup. Flexibility is the key here too - the volume of traffic during the day is high, and most often too high to perform work so work is performed at night. This work has a few important benefits for us all. It reduces the amount of mechanical work, such as strimming and mowing that the network of roads needs to keep it in good shape. Less mechanical work means less cones on the road, and far fewer delays to the motorist. I asked our highways team what they hoped for 2008 and was quite surprised by the response, Jason our main highways man quipped " not much - its pretty good really".
And what has all this got to do with sports turf and making the pitches we all rely on for our sport great to play on? It's a good question to ask for a company that does everything from invasive weed control, urban footpath to motorways. Strength through diversity - we also specialise in sports turf. Our senior operators perform this task as it is essential that the most experienced and skilled people go out onto the grass that so many of our fellow Pitchcare readers spend so much time on. The care and attention we put into controlling your weeds or applying your liquid nutrition has to be the best. When asked what he liked about spraying golf courses Phil Hollinger of our North Midlands depot was keen to share his like of the landscape that golfers enjoy " It's good to see how different courses contrast and enjoy the different scenery they all have", he added " they are really nice place to be, which is why they are so nice to work on". What could change for the better in 2008? "Even more work on golf courses, we can then give the chance to work in these great spaces to other deserving guys in the company".
2008 - a step forward for standards and quality?
The whole of our field team - operatives and managers spent a week together in training last week. Training week is an annual event, the only time of the year that our staff that deliver what we do to our clients get together, and refresh on the subjects that are important to how we do our job. We are the only amenity weed control company that has all its operatives NRoSo registered. NRoSo (the National Register of Spray Operators) is a core part of the development of our staff. As NRoSO members they need to engage in continued professional development to ensure that they are up to speed with the current standards and best practice. Many other companies would say that this is an expense in time and money away from day to day work that doesn't add to the bottom line. But at what price quality? If you aren't prepared to commit to your staff in the pursuit of continued and improved quality than what are you saying about where you are taking your business?
We believe in our staff. After all it's the way our operators deliver the service to our clients that makes the difference. It's a fact - well trained, motivated staff that feel valued will always out perform seasonal casual staff that have no stake in the outcome of their work. We like to think we can offer our staff a career, commitment and dedication will be rewarded with diverse more appealing work, training to work in other areas, and as skills are acquired salary rises in line with this. Thanks to this approach, valuing our people, means Languard has an enviable staff retention rate. If Maurice has been at Languard for 18 years we must be getting something right.
In the Autumn of 2007 there was a campaign from the amenity industry to our MEP's to reject the ill conceived and poorly considered parts of the EU Thematic Strategy for the Sustained Use of Pesticides in Public Places. This was a success as it brought to the attention of our MEP's what the outcome of what was proposed will be - a degradation of the standards of our urban and green spaces, and un manageable golf courses and sports pitches. . There is one positive outcome from the Thematic Strategy proposals.
Licensing of contractors who perform work using pesticide products in public spaces. This is a significant step forward - as to gain this license the people who do the work, managers and operatives alike will need to demonstrate that they have the competence and management systems in place to do an effective and competent job. This is great news as the cowboys that have blighted the amenity business for so long and given it such a poor reputation will not be able to operate unless they work to the same standards as the rest of us. This can only be a good thing - both for them, their staff, their clients and the public. The licensing scheme being discussed is Amenity Assured. For more details contact BASIS registration at www.basisregistration.co.uk .