Meet Stuart Gardner

Stuart Gardner is Operations Director at AB2000 Ltd and has been a member of the Executive Committee at the Scottish Plant Owners Association (SPOA) since 2018.

He was encouraged to join the Executive Committee by former boss, Adam Bruce, also a long-standing member of the SPOA to get a better understanding of the industry. He enjoys being part of the SPOA and believes that the role of the trade association has never been more important.

Stuart explains: “The SPOA does a good job of speaking up about the issues that are important to its members. To be honest, if it didn’t, nobody else would. Now there are so many issues that are critical to the future of the industry from lobbying for rebates on greener fuels to championing the industry as a good career choice for young people. I think it is important that the SPOA continues to listen to members and to represent them on these important topics.”

A changing workforce

Stuart sees a very different workforce today compared to 20 years ago: “It is not uncommon to be onsite today and see plant operators who are close to retirement age. The problem is that there is a gap in the middle. We might have apprentices starting out in the industry, but it will be a while before they gain the appropriate experience to replace these older workers. If your business is in operated plant hire and equipment like AB2000, then customers expect experienced plant operators to work on their jobs. It presents a real challenge.”

Need for a clear career path

Stuart believes that the plant industry offers so many different career choices that are simply not well known and that there is a need for a clear career path with recognised training opportunities. He continues: “If we go back to the older plant operator still working today, he has operated plant all his life, he is very experienced and can earn a decent wage because of that experience and the hours he chooses to put in. But he hasn’t progressed in any other way.

“In other industries, you would expect that person to be in senior management after so many years but in the plant industry it is very difficult to follow a steady career progression. There isn’t a recognised training qualification for management, there are generic courses you can do but they aren’t specific enough to our sector. This is something I’d like to explore because the reality is that there are lots of diverse roles in the plant industry from transport management to sales and logistics and lots of supportive companies in the industry looking for good staff who want a future in our sector.”

Financial challenges for the industry

Stuart outlines the financial challenges facing the plant industry: “The removal of the rebate on red diesel hit everybody hard and the cost incentive to switch to greener fuels simply isn’t there. Hire rates are also failing to keep up with inflation. A lot of companies will have deals with fixed rates and it can be very hard to negotiate on that. All of this does have an unintended consequence where companies will hold on to older machinery rather than investing in new.”

Be part of shaping the future of the plant industry

With all these challenges, Stuart is keen to encourage more members of the SPOA to consider joining the Executive Committee: “My role within the SPOA means that I am far more aware of changing legislation than I ever was before and even if we might not always be able to influence it, we can do a really good job of helping members prepare for it. I enjoy the social side of the SPOA as well, I get to meet counterparts from across the industry and indeed across the country and I’ve met some great people.

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