This summer the sector skills council for the environmental and land-based sector, Lantra, launched a campaign to highlight a potentially huge staffing deficit in horticulture while calling on industry to recognise that investing time and money in people's potential is a sound strategy.
The skills council estimates the landscaping sector alone will need to attract 5,100 new employees a year over the next decade to prevent a potential employee deficit of 65,000. The ornamentals and edibles production sectors are expected to lose 3,500 workers annually over the same period. But just 900 18-year-olds from further education are entering production horticulture every year, while only 1,400 are going into landscaping annually.
Lantra chairman Gordon McGlone explains: "We need the help of UK businesses if we are to attract the 21,500 new employees we need for our sector every year. This is the minimum number required to stem the tide of skills being lost and businesses going into decline as talented people leave our industries. We are achieving around 4,600 (entrants). Part of the difficulty in attracting talent is that many of the industries we represent suffer from a poor image. This is then further compounded by the perception that there aren't enough opportunities to develop interesting and fulfilling careers."
Creating the solution
Lantra and its education partners look set to tackle this problem head on with the September 2009 launch of its Diploma in Environmental and Land-based Studies. But it will need dedicated support from the industry if young entrants are to opt for a career in horticulture.
Pea grower Bob Fiddaman is chairing Lantra's Diploma Development Partnership and sees its development as the first chance in many years for the horticulture sector to push the industry and show the next generation what it has to offer in terms of career prospects.
The Diploma in Environmental and Land-based Studies is part of a range of new qualifications in England, aimed at young people from 14 to 19 years of age.
These qualifications will provide young people with practical skills, knowledge and understanding related to one of 14 different sectors, combined with essential skills in English, maths and information and communications technologies (ICT). Available at four levels, these aim to help learners progress more effectively into employment, training and further education.
Some 51 partnerships of schools, colleges and employers are approved to start teaching in September 2009 to an estimated 3,300 learners. By 2013 every young person in England will have the chance to take the Diploma in Environmental and Land-based Studies course. Many see the diploma as the biggest educational development since GCSEs.
Fiddaman says: "The diploma is a way of offering the industry to people at an early age and showing them that there is a good career available to them. It's the first time that our sector has had the chance to do that since rural studies was removed from secondary modern education 25 years ago.
"This is not the same kind of diploma already offered in horticulture, where students attend a further-education college. It is not a ready-for-work diploma but it is informing young students of the work available to them," explains Fiddaman.
"There are three different levels - foundation, higher and advanced. The third is equivalent to A-level standard and provides enough UCAS points for students to go on to study for a horticultural degree. It can be used to develop young people's interest."
He adds: "From 2009 onwards this will be the first opportunity to get a young generation interested in the various areas of the land-based industries, from environmental aspects to growing to landscaping."
Work-related learning and work experience will be key features of the diploma to assure employers that graduates can apply their skills in the workplace and have the right attitude to progress. The diploma aims to promote learning and skills that are informed by, and recognisable to, environmental and land-based industries. Employers, schools and colleges will work together to deliver a range of learning techniques that allow young people to understand fully the importance and structure of the sector.
Industry set to back diploma
At development level, where Lantra is working with industry employers, Fiddaman notes the industry is recognising the opportunities presented by the diploma, and businesses seem keen to get behind it. He says employer involvement is essential and will increase over the next 12 months as its launch nears.
This need is recognised outside the council too. Horticultural consultant and former director of Coblands Nurseries Ken Turner says: "We've got to be in the schools and colleges to give professional expertise, to back up those who are delivering the diploma in the consortia. We've got to welcome young people into our business holdings as well, so they can see first-hand how we operate, what technology we've got and why we need people with certain skills.
"We've got to go for it. If we don't, where will we find the people who are going to run our industry in the future? If we don't find these people and don't inspire them, then we're not going to have an industry and that would be an absolute tragedy."
The RHS has also shown its support. Head of education Ruth Taylor says: "I know from some of the work we are involved in that young people are unaware of the opportunities in horticulture, so I think this diploma is really going to open up a pathway that has been closed until now."
HTA director of business development Tim Briercliffe sees the diploma's development as an important tool in opening a young generation's eyes to horticulture as a career prospect, bringing school children face to face with the industry. But with such a wide remit including animal care and wetland conservation as well as plant and food production, he believes it is now up to horticultural businesses to ensure horticulture makes up a proportionate share of the course content.
"Environmental and Land-based Studies obviously has a very wide remit and brings together learning from many industries," says Briercliffe. "It is up to our industry to pick up the lead and say: 'If we want students studying the diploma to choose a career in horticulture, we need to make the links with schools and colleges.'
"We need to ensure that the businesses teaming up with education providers are horticultural businesses such as nurseries and garden centres - and one of the jobs the HTA will do is try to facilitate those links. I think this industry is ready to give that support. Historically, people working in horticulture have helped to nurture young people within the sector because it's in their interests to do so."
Campaigns to raise awareness
The HTA has its initiatives to tackle the skills shortage and promote the sector as a place to start a lifelong career. It is running its Developing People strategy, and in March this year it took on a trainee and careers manager who is identifying career paths to highlight to potential employees.
Lantra and the HTA both realise the importance of career changers to the industry, with Lantra looking to attract wider business skills to the sector, while a key part of the HTA Developing People strategy is to identify career paths that relate to other industries. Briercliffe says: "We're not just talking about people who have an interest in plants, we want people with retail backgrounds to use their skills in the garden centre, people with science and technology backgrounds to use their skills in the nursery, and those working in construction to transfer their skills to landscaping.
"We want to demonstrate how careers relate to other industries and promote that to those who haven't previously thought of horticulture as the sector for them," Briercliffe says. "We want to take this message to students, highlighting how someone studying science or business management can have a fulfilling career in the garden industry."
The HTA is in the first stages of the campaign but serious promotion starts in 2009.
Lantra will again be calling for industry involvement as it seeks to address the potential of apprenticeship schemes in horticulture. Fiddaman says: "Lantra is carrying out an apprenticeship review and the next major thing for the council to do is build on current apprenticehip offerings. A working group is looking at the issues and in the next few months this will be taken forward.
"We want to play a large role in raising awareness of opportunities and again we will need strong employer involvement to do that."
HOW THE DIPLOMA WILL WORK
Available at foundation, higher and advanced levels, the Diploma in Environmental and Land-based Studies is a new qualification that will be available in some schools and colleges in England from September 2009, and throughout England by 2013.
The diploma is made up of three components:
Principal learning: The main compulsory component of the diploma, which develops hands-on knowledge, understanding and skills in the context of the environmental and land-based sector.
Additional or specialist learning: An opportunity to study further environmental and land-based topics in more depth, or to broaden the range of study.
Generic learning: Compulsory learning, including functional skills in English, maths and ICT, plus the development of personal, learning and thinking skills, and the chance for learners to develop through work-related learning and work experience.
Developed in close consultation with employers, a diploma will be a guarantee that learners holding it have the hands-on skills and knowledge that businesses require. It aims to provide real material benefit by reducing recruitment and training costs and staff turnover. Young people come in to the workforce with higher levels of skills, and will have made better-informed choices.
How to get involved
Horticultural businesses can support the diploma in several ways. Some options require greater commitment than others. At one end of the range is the provision of one or two weeks' work experience. Or a business may simply provide existing information and research material about the company to students. For further details on how to get involved visit www.diplomaelbs.co.uk. Lantra also has employer leaflets available at www.lantra.co.uk. For hard copies call 0845 707 8007.