Entry-level qualifications can help kick off a fulfilling career in horticulture, but once you're working it's crucial to keep building on your skills. The importance of continuing professional development (CPD) in maintaining professional standards is now being recognised across the industry, and it's becoming essential if you're to be taken seriously as a professional.
Sole traders, business owners and staff can use CPD to keep up with new techniques and changes in legislation. It also offers the chance to broaden your horizons by adding new skills to your portfolio. Organised CPD schemes provide a record of completed training to show prospective employers or clients.
"People have to be encouraged to keep themselves up to date," says David Wynn, of environmental skills council Lantra. "And CPD is a way of saying 'look, that's what I've done' and having your achievements endorsed."
Approaches to CPD vary widely across horticulture. At best, CPD is a requirement of the job, keeping professionals' skills current through scheduled short courses and other activities. Participation contributes to a points system, and you complete a minimum amount of CPD each year.
However, in many areas of horticulture, professionals have little guidance on how to structure their training, and finding out what's on offer can be like finding your way through a minefield. There are hundreds of short courses, conferences and events covering every aspect of the industry, which can make it difficult for you to identify which one is right for you.
The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) is among several organisations concerned about the issue - look out for its report on the situation later this year.
HTA representative Gill Ormrod says: "It's as much about it being coherent as comprehensive. There's a need to know what's available and for whom."
Lantra is developing online skills assessment tools aimed at identifying gaps in skills and helping professionals, ranging from park managers to tree surgeons, to keep track of what they've done and to plan career progression.
GreenSKILL is being piloted by Leicester City Council; and Skills Manager is a similar tool that will eventually be open to everyone from sole traders to large businesses. Wynn explains: "The sector is very diverse. But this system holds all the skills you should have: it's a great way of looking at the next job and adding the skills you need to your portfolio."
Managing your own CPD
Putting together a CPD programme for yourself or your staff ensures that you're up to date and also helps to plug gaps in your skills, or develop new ones.
Short courses are the most targeted way to build your skills. Horticultural colleges, such as Writtle College in Essex, offer a wide range of courses including chainsaw operations and garden machinery techniques.
Independent organisations can also be good sources of specialist training. BASIS offers a points-based system that trains growers and amenity horticulture staff in the use pesticide and fertiliser, while NRoSo has a similar programme for sprayer operators.
Industry conferences provide an excellent way to keep up to date with research and to pick up advice. Events such as Contact, for growers, and trade shows like the Arb Show, also offer seminars and workshops. Industry bodies run regular study courses. The HTA, for example, organises classes for retailers on everything from profit protection to garden sundries.
WHAT'S ON OFFER
Arboriculturists: A well-established programme of credit-rated CPD is a requirement for membership of key professional bodies. Training covers everything from tree surveying to bat conservation, organised through the Arboricultural Association (www.trees.org.uk).
Grounds care professionals: The Institute of Groundsmanship runs a points-based system requiring 35 hours of CPD training over each 12-month period. All courses and CPD activities are registered on a record card and you can progress through six levels of competence.
Gardeners: Parks departments generally have good council-run CPD schemes, while for other gardening professionals there are regular CPD sessions at RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey. The Institute of Horticulture holds networking events throughout the year, and garden secondment schemes such as English Heritage's Historic and Botanic Garden Bursary Scheme also offer training.
Growers: The Contact conferences, held by the HTA, include lectures and workshops. BASIS offers a formal credits-based system in pesticide and fertiliser usage. Technical training in research developments is available through the levy-funded Horticultural Development Company.
Retailers: Garden centre staff can take the Garden Care Certificate of Competence on the use of garden chemicals. The HTA also organises workshops on various aspects of retail management. The Retail Development Forum, for retailers with a turnover in excess of £2m, meets for talks and seminars.
Landscapers: Workshops are held throughout the year by the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL), sometimes in association with the Society of Garden Designers. The APL also runs a business-improvement scheme for landscapers to meet for talks and seminars.