Justine Newman, Horticultural Sector Manager of IML Labels, looks at the shortage of workers in the horticultural industry, identifies why this is the case, and suggests how we can help to inspire the next generation of gardeners.
The UK’s horticultural industry is worth £9 billion and employs almost 200,000 people. Yet, a survey of 18 year olds showed that 70% thought a career in horticulture was for people who had “failed academically”. Furthermore, almost 50% of under 25s saw horticulture as an “unskilled career”.
During the UK recession, despite high youth unemployment, there were still more vacancies in the horticultural industry, than could be filled.
But that’s not the only issue. 70% of people stated that horticulture was never mentioned as a career option whilst they were at school. If careers advisors don’t suggest the industry, then how can we blame young people for not considering it as a serious career choice?
We need to figure out what we can do to prove that horticulture is a credible industry to build a career in, and inspire the next generation of gardeners before it’s too late.
Educate on the Variety of Jobs
When young people think of horticulture, they probably think of gardening. Whilst that’s one opportunity, we need to demonstrate to the next generation that that’s just one job path out of many.
From florists to machine operators, logistics to ornamental plant growers, propagation scientists and garden centre supervisors, there are so many exciting opportunities in this industry. We need to educate young people on the sheer number of options available to them.
There are lots of interesting statistics on various careers paths in horticulture here. One consistent figure across the industry is company size. For instance, in production horticulture, there are over 15,000 businesses – 94% of which have less than 9 staff. Perhaps unsurprisingly, self-employment figures are much higher than the UK average, at 56% compared to 13%.
With such a large number of businesses, the opportunities for young people to develop a career in horticulture are vast.
Current Training Opportunities Available
We don’t want a staggeringly high proportion of young people to think that a career in horticulture is for those who have “failed academically”. Especially when we know that isn’t true.
With a mixture of qualifications, apprenticeships and on-the-job training required for the various roles in horticulture, we need to educate the next generation on what is required of them, if they want to join our industry.
However, it’s also important that we don’t alienate anyone. The great thing about the range of paths offered in this industry, is that young people can choose the one that best suits them.
Government apprenticeships are one route to take, of which there are two available. Intermediate level equips people with the experience to continue careers as gardeners, landscapers, greenkeepers, machine operators… even fruit and vegetable production workers.
Alternatively, the advanced level apprenticeship provides training for roles including deputy head groundsman or greenkeeper, parks officer or garden designer.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) offers their own two-year apprenticeship programme in four locations across England. Whilst training in ornamental gardens, apprentices also spend time studying at college. All of these opportunities are great for young people who have left school, and are looking to start a fulfilling career.
It’s important that we educate young people so they know that for certain jobs, a higher education is required – dispelling the belief that horticulture is “unskilled”.
Floristry requires professional qualifications like NVQs, and foundation degrees are often needed for logistics or ornamental plant growers. Alternatively, on-the-job training can also help young people to work their way up in the horticultural industry, like garden centre work.Once we’ve trained people up, we also need to ensure we retain our workers, so we don’t continually face shortages.
The great thing about our industry is that there is no one fixed route to develop a career. We need to make young people aware of this, and provide careers advisors with enough information that they feel comfortable mentioning this as a viable long-term career.
Inspiring the next Generation of Gardeners
The apprenticeships and training opportunities are out there. The key takeaway from this is that we have a duty to educate young people on the facts of a career in horticulture. To prove that they are a serious option and can compete with the likes of other industries – whether it’s retail, legal, hospitality, health…
Only then can we abolish the myths surrounding our industry, and inspire the next generation of gardeners to join us.