According To Hewson ... Skills shortage persists but stars emerge

I'm often asked by growers whether I think there is a skills shortage in the industry, by which I mean commercial horticulture in general and the ornamentals sector in particular. My answer is always yes.

I've lost track of the countless - and doubtless well-intentioned - skills-training initiatives of recent times and the educational physcobabble that goes with them. I'm not sure they're making a huge difference down on the nursery, but let's hope they will.

Could growers afford to pay more to attract better recruits? You'll have to ask them and I know what they'll say - and it may not be polite. Besides, pay isn't everything and there's always scope to spring clean our image and to better promote horticulture as a career in schools, where I suspect horticulture still falls some way down the pecking order - a point well made by Alan Titchmarsh recently.

Better pay is, though, a tricky one, as commercial margins remain under pressure. Maybe the industry could up its game and pay more. But to be fair I think it already does for the right candidates because they are in short supply and must be snapped up promptly. Rather like that elusive goalscorer in football, sometimes you have to break the bank to get what you want - and growers do. I know this because I speak with them every day and this topic crops up more often than powdery mildew on a hot summer's day.

Anyway, things are seldom as bad they seem and even Alan T gets things wrong, for I fear on this he is a tad out of date. There are bright young things busying away in the industry and some of them are indeed growers and gardeners as well as researchers and consultants.

Far be it from me to name names, but we do have young - and not so young - talented growers in our midst. Check out the excellent UK Grower Awards of this very magazine. Our wider challenge is to increase the gene pool, starting in our schools. Once we crack that, the goalscorers will follow.

Andrew Hewson is a freelance writer and columnist.

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