Boot camp-style training aimed at quickly upskilling new landscapers with industry skills is being launched by the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL).
The programme will be run in partnership with Jody Lidgard of the Landscape Skills Academy. The first week-long course, focusing on paving, is set to launch in mid October.
The boot camp idea emerged from WorldSkills UK, for which Lidgard is a judge. WorldSkills competitors tend to markedly improve their skills over the competition week, and Lidgard and the APL believe that model could hold the key to quickly increasing skills in the wider industry.
While interest has come from all quarters, including garden designers who want to improve their own hard landscaping skills, most demand is expected from landscape companies that want to upskill employees but do not have the time to carry out training.
The course will be "an injection in the arm when these guys come back and their employers see a tangible upturn after a week", said Lidgard, who owns landscape business Bespoke Outdoor Spaces and is a landscape college tutor.
Many graduates have strong CVs and qualifications but employers soon find they are "woefully underskilled", he added.
Colleges are working with "ever increasing restrictions" such as funding pressures and cannot give students time to work on practical skills. But while there has been plenty of talk about the skills gap, little has been done about it, said Lidgard.
"We need to address it. I think this will help bolster the industry and stop the rot." The APL and HTA are backing the initiative as a "long-term investment", he added.
APL national business manager Phil Tremayne agreed it is "vital" that the skills shortage be addressed.
"I am convinced we have a real opportunity here to do something that will pave the way for an upskilled and more productive workforce, in a way that will not only educate but inspire."
Paving course Week-long training scheme
The first week-long training course will cover all aspects of paving, from basic principles through to how to cut and install everything from porcelain to granite, working with edge restraints and bonding agents. It will also involve quantity surveying, working from plans and waste removal.
Substantial supplies are being provided by sponsors including Marshalls and Makita. Students should come away with an understanding of the nuances of how it feels to lay paving for days at a time, as opposed to the college model where they lay around 10 slabs and then never practice the skill again, said Jody Lidgard of the Landscape Skills Academy.
Day one will see students assessed and put into groups with similar skills, with one tutor to five students. The course will have a real-life feel, with work starting by 7.30am.
As well as packed days, evenings will be spent covering theory and listening to industry bigwigs talk about the bigger picture. A health and safety qualification may also be incorporated in the scheme.
Later modules could focus on subjects such as block walling, retaining walls and carpentry. Prices are still being finalised for the boot camp.