Career profile - Production manager

A production manager's main responsibility is to ensure that the glasshouse, nursery or farm produces a bountiful and consistently high-quality crop for people to enjoy.

This means that - regardless of whether they are involved in the commercial growing of ornamental plants or fresh produce - the production manager must tend to the needs of thousands of plants as well as teams of both permanent and seasonal staff members.

What is best about being a production manager?

Peter Bukowski, production manager for top-fruit producer AC Goatham & Son, answers: "One of the best aspects of the job is to see the trees laden with top-quality fruit just before harvest, which is the end result of 12 months of work. It gives the whole team a great sense of satisfaction. Also, being able to work outdoors instead of being stuck in an office all day. I love working outside in all weathers and you have to really enjoy that to enjoy the job."

Gerard Vonk, general manager at pepper producer Tangmere Airfield Nurseries, adds: "Every growing season and even each day is different. You are working in an evolving industry where product demands are constantly changing. In this industry, you never stop learning and you can't stand still - that's exciting." Vitacress Herbs assistant growing manager Laura Marner has similar sentiments. She says one of the best aspects of the role is "going into work every day and having a different challenge - be it crop, environment or staff."

What kind of skills, attributes, knowledge and experience do you feel are most in demand for this role in the recruitment market at the moment - and why?

In-depth knowledge and experience of growing crops

"You must be able to make the right decisions," Bukowski contends. "If you think about the cycle of my work - planting, pruning, irrigation - you have to be able to answer questions about all aspects of production to know what is right." He adds: "Also, you have to be prepared to take responsibility for everything. These are big numbers I am working with and you can't shift the blame. Again, this comes back to knowledge and experience, which allows you to make tough decisions. There is no progress if there are no decisions."

People/management skills

Vonk highlights that a production manager has to be able to lead, instruct and manage a team, so good people and communication skills are vital. He describes crop production as a team effort and says: "A hands-on, flexible and committed approach is required, as no two days are ever the same - it's not a nine-to-five job."

Bukowski adds: "It is very important to know how to deal with all types of people and to treat them well and with respect. A good team is a happy team. Everyone is different on my team and I have to treat them all differently. How you manage them helps to build up trust. Once we have that I can give the team more freedom and know that it is going to be doing a good job." Marner says: "People skills are a must. The unit can run without us, but we can't run (it) without the staff."

Organisational skills

Vonk notes that attention to detail is key, as is the ability to plan and prioritise your workload.

Determination/positive attitude

"Staying motivated and listening to advice and different approaches are also important qualities - what might be right today may change tomorrow," Vonk maintains. Marner says you need "a positive attitude because there are going to be long days, there are going to be crop failures and you can't afford to let these keep you down because tomorrow you have to do it all again".

IT skills

As Marner points out, state-of-the-art glasshouses such as those at Vitacress are controlled by an environmental computer. For this reason, she insists: "Computer skills are essential."

Love of growing

Although Marner admits that this job can be hard at times, she says: "If you enjoy growing, then somehow it all becomes OK."

What sort of qualifications and experience would you need to see from a potential candidate to be convinced that they possess these qualities?

While Bukowski attended agricultural college in Poland, he says a background of a university education is around half of what is needed to become a production manager. "People need to be prepared to start at the bottom and work up through every part of the production operation. That way they will gain the experience to help make decisions."

Vonk adds that practical experience, interest and a willingness to learn are just as important as qualifications. "Learning what you can from experienced growers is the best start," he says. Marner also suggests that you do not need a degree to become a production manager. "But you do need to want to learn, either through work-based courses or from on-the-job experience."

Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from other horticulture roles?

Bukowski says many of the skills are transferable but "you may need to start a step down in order to learn". He adds: "Agronomists will have some of the same knowledge but I think someone needs to be keen and to be willing to improve themselves and to learn new things."

Marner notes that she has people working in the nursery with different skills and backgrounds - "from logistics to microbiology, computers to machinery". She adds: "We are desperate for people who want to work in the industry who we can train up to be the next line of managers."


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