The Government's overhaul of apprenticeship training announced in chancellor George Osborne's autumn statement a year ago set alarm bells ringing in the horticulture industry. The new framework, which will apply from 2017, will require apprenticeships to be at least a year long, graded rather than given a pass or fail and judged through rigorous independent assessment.
Crucially, the new approach is to be led by employers rather than training providers. This has led to concern about how easy it will be to encourage an industry with such a wide scope and range of specialisms to collaborate and take responsibility for putting together apprenticeship programmes.
The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and the Department for Education called on industries to form "trailblazers", groups of employers within a sector working together to develop new apprenticeship standards for occupations. The groups must include a wide range of employers and be reflective of the industries they represent in terms of size and sector.
Industry groups including BALI and land-based skills council Lantra warned that if the industry did not pull together and form a trailblazer, horticulture would be left with no formal apprenticeships when the changes come into effect in 2017.
A few months on, and the industry has overcome the initial hurdles and is now on the way to developing apprenticeships under the new framework. Having formed the required groups and submitted the required two-page information document, horticulture is now represented in the third tranche of the trailblazer scheme, announced at the end of October.
Lantra horticulture manager David Winn explains that all sectors of the industry are now represented. "The next step is now to get employees and representatives round the table to discuss more detailed proposals," he says. This next step will take the form of a meeting that will be attended by the employers forming the "horticulture and tree work" trailblazer, which will be chaired by Bartlett Tree Experts general manager Ian Barrow. A BIS representative will be there to explain the next stages and the meeting will decide "who is going to do what when", according to Winn.
The group is made up of two sub-groups - the trees and timber group, covering forestry and arboriculture, and the landscape and horticulture group. Following the initial meeting, the groups will meet separately to draw up detailed proposals for the apprenticeship standards, content of the courses and how apprentices will be assessed, in line with the aims and requirements of employers. This needs to be achieved by early next year.
The forestry and arboriculture sub-group is chaired by Barrow. Other organisations involved include, among others, the Duchy of Cornwall, UPM TilHill and Fountains Forestry & Utilities.
The landscape and horticulture group, involving employers such as Hillier Landscapes, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and English Heritage, is chaired by Ground Control national group training manager and BALI technical director Neil Huck. Some local authorities are also involved, including Birmingham City Council, Scarborough Borough Council and Halton Borough Council.
The occupations for which apprenticeship standards are being created include forester, arborist, gardener/horticultural operative and head gardener/parks supervisor. Depending on what is decided at the initial meeting, the two groups may subdivide further to reflect the specialisms of the employers, according to Huck. Potential sub-groups could include heritage and botanic gardens as well as parks and grounds maintenance.
There has so far been a lot of interest from the industry in getting involved, says Huck, and the employer group includes small, medium and large companies ranging from domestic landscapers to large grounds maintenance outfits.
His company, commercial landscaper Ground Control, currently runs an apprenticeship scheme that it is looking at expanding to cover new areas of the business. Huck explains that the employer-led approach of the new framework is an attraction.
"Ground Control, like many companies, has had difficulty recruiting people and we need to grow our own," he says. "This is industrynot academia-led and that is important for its validity." He adds that while it might take a while to agree a detailed set of standards, it should not be difficult to bring everyone together.
"Lantra is facilitating, which is half the battle because they have the contacts and expertise," says Huck, adding that the big initial challenge of getting the trailblazer groups and initial proposals accepted has been achieved.
Different horticulture jobs are represented elsewhere in other trailblazers. At a more advanced stage than the horticulture and tree work group is the golf trailblazer, which was part of one of the earlier phases. Golf greenkeeper is among the apprenticeship plans and standards produced by employers have been agreed by the Government.
The standard, which has been published on the National Apprenticeship Service website (www.apprenticeships.org.uk), sets out the requirements of the role, necessary skills, technical knowledge that must be understood and professional recognition and career progression the apprenticeship would provide.
The HTA has been involved in the retail trailblazer, alongside large employers such as The Co-operative Group, Tesco, Asda and John Lewis. While no garden retailers are listed among the companies currently involved, the HTA's involvement means that the specific needs of garden retail businesses are being taken into account, says HTA training and careers manager Penny Evans.
The association is currently looking at the challenges around offering apprenticeships at small family businesses as opposed to large retailers, something that is particularly relevant to the horticulture industry, she points out. Garden retailers will become involved now as the practicalities of the apprenticeships are discussed, to ensure that the requirements of the sector are considered, according to Evans.
The HTA is also involved in the horticulture and tree work group, which is still in the very early stages, while the retail group is more advanced. The main thing is now to get the right people together for discussion at the meeting, Evans explains. "We'll see what the first meeting produces."
Production horticulture is represented in a trailblazer that also covers agriculture. The group will develop apprenticeship standards for three occupations - technician (horticultural, fresh produce, arable or glasshouse), packhouse operative and unit/site livestock manager.
The group of employers is currently made up of arable and livestock farmers and a number of horticultural growers. These include fresh-produce growers such as Glinwell, Stubbins and Valley Grown Salads as well as supermarkets including Co-operative Food, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose.
Ornamental growers are not currently well represented, although water plant specialist Anglo Aquatic Plant Co is on the list. However, more could become involved as the process continues.
BALI spokeswoman Denise Eubanks says the organisation will begin soliciting involvement from members after the first meeting, particularly from companies that have not previously been involved in apprenticeships. "I don't doubt our members will want to be involved," she adds.
Winn emphasises that considering the process must be led by employers, bringing more people on board will be essential going forward. "We are in the discussion and planning phase and we need engagement," he says. "The emphasis is on this being employer-led and if people don't get engaged and say what skills they need there won't be another opportunity in the future."
Horticultural employers involved in trailblazers
Horticulture and tree work
Abberton Rural Training
Acorn Environmental Management Group
Bartlett Tree Experts
Birmingham City Council
Central Tree Services
Claudia de Yong Designs
Duchy of Cornwall
Fountains Forestry & Utilities
Garden House Design
Halton Borough Council
Ian Trueman Specialist Tree Services
Ringrose Tree Services
Roger Gladwell Landscaping & Garden Design
Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
Say it with Wood
Scarborough Borough Council
The Garden Makers
Treeworks (West Wales)
West Coast Network Services
Agriculture and production horticulture
Abbey View Produce
Anglo Aquatic Plant Co
Gee Vee Enterprises
Hall Hunter Partnership
Marks & Spencer
Valley Grown Salads
Golf greenkeeping (horticulture)
Basildon Golf Club
Bearwood Lakes Golf Club
British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association
Cold Ashby Golf Club
Greenkeepers Training Committee
MacDonald Portal Hotel
Royal Liverpool Golf Club
Stock Brook Golf Club
Worplesdon Golf Club
- For further information, please see http://www.apprenticeships.org.uk/employers.aspx