One of the most important lessons that should be taught from generation to generation is the benefit of training and learning every single day of your career. This message is one that I have devoted much of my time to, especially over the past 20 years or more.
There are so many ways to train yourself and any staff over whom you have any influence or responsibility. Simply passing on practical skills is such a basic part of our industry that it almost needs no mention. It is just something we do every day. Explaining and demonstrating various techniques
to junior team members and encouraging them to follow by example is a part of our job.
Unless you are very fortunate and work for a company that has sufficient talent available in-house to allow everyone to increase their knowledge and skills by copying the example displayed by more experienced staff members, your options for creating a training environment may seem limited.
I was greatly encouraged the other day to see an item on Facebook that showed a friend of mine who owns a landscape company, with around a dozen employees, using a very wet day to provide staff training — manual handling and a couple of other "safe-use" subjects — in a very formal manner, with everyone in
the office looking at a screen and working together in a classroom-style lecture.
This company had the foresight to have available, at short notice, a series of in-house training talks to occupy staff and teach them some of the many and wide-ranging variety of skills and personal development steps that are essential for the well-being of the company at large, but also the individual as a career person. Using formal training sessions in this way, the whole company benefits. No more wet or snowy days spent tidying the workshop or cleaning the tools (again). No more boredom and frustration waiting for five o’clock.
By operating a progressive and informed programme of whatever skills you need as a team, you can avoid meaningless time-killing exercises. Programmes may be designed for you as a particular company requiring specialist skills or devoted to other practical elements such as marking out of sites, creating ellipses and circles, finding and proving right angles, assessing volumes and displacements, finding and checking site levels — the list really is endless.
Should you be fortunate enough to have covered space, why not practice some brickwork, building up corners and infilling using a variety of different bonds and styles? The bricks may be cleaned at the end of the day and used many times.
Similarly, paving works, especially working with some of the more modern types of product including porcelain, require a lot of practice, trial and error. Better to try out your skills away from the client’s garden if you can. With so many different aspects and skills required, the greater the need to understand the different adhesives, laying mixes and pointing materials.
With all of these training suggestions, the key is to have the products, materials and classrooms available and ready at short notice so that work can begin without undue delay. If the weather promises to be dreadful the next day, plan for tomorrow and announce the fact that there will be training on whatever your chosen subject.
Maintain a record of these training sessions and include the names of all attendees. Some people may ask for more specific training or to study techniques that you do not have available at that time. If they are deemed suitable, ensure that they are be added to your in-house training programme.
You may decide to invite an external trainer for a day or more, but these may not always be wet-weather/short-notice events. They will, however, bring new skills to your workforce and should be considered as an important part of your programme.
Broaden your knowledge
Another way of gaining experience, again during inclement weather when the alternative is non-productive yard work, is to broaden your knowledge of plants and plant identification. When I took my City & Guilds, more than 40 years ago, I used to visit my local nursery centre (in the days before garden centres) on a Saturday morning and walk round checking the names of plants, noting various growth habits and colours, especially foliage and bark variations.
I would then spend the rest of the week looking round the gardens I was working in (only maintenance in those days) and try to identify and name each plant. I carried out this exercise for a year or more before I felt that I had conquered everything Cheals of Pulborough could offer.
This type of training is valuable for an individual or a small team — walking round, making various notes and asking questions. With modern mobile telephones and their various apps, it is possible to identify plants much faster than my old-fashioned method. But you cannot beat touching and smelling plants to really get to know them.
Why not expand this logic to visiting your local natural stone supplier or building centre, checking out and understanding loading and handling techniques, how to store on-site, how to ensure a good mix of colours when working with facing bricks, what types of sand are used and why? So many things may be taught and learnt by devising your own company-specific training programmes.
Alan Sargent is an independent gardens consultant and founder of the Professional Garden Consultants Association.
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