Pershore College is giving the Vale of Evesham's growers and other West Midlands horticultural businesses a role in curriculum development to ensure an ongoing supply of skilled workers, according to interim principal Tamsin Jones.
"They don't just provide work experience," she said. "We are bringing employers in to create the curriculum, which has completely changed, and to make use of technological advances."
Following a "root-and-branch" independent review last year, the curriculum is now arranged into "career focus clusters" such as "crop and food", she explained.
"You come to us for a career rather than a course. You are learning but half the time you are on one of our commercial units." In addition to these, partnership with local growers provides further experience of specialist production, such as microgreens, she added.
"Seeing horticulture as a business is now at the core of the curriculum, which gives students a competitive advantage. Our marketing includes salary expectations."
A £5.8m investment in facilities is due to be completed in September 2015. Support has come from Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership, which brought in £4m from the Skills Funding Agency to develop Pershore as a centre of excellence. "It shows that we are as important to them as they are to us," said Jones.
Integration with Warwickshire college seven years ago "provides the underpinning structure" for such strategic moves, she added. "We couldn't do this otherwise."
Pershore College commercial and resources manager John Farmer added: "We have had a change of emphasis from ornamental horticulture towards providing skills for the vegetable and soft-fruit growers of the Vale of Evesham.
"We are standing by horticulture, which is unusual. Not many colleges still have commercial units."
The college marked its 60th anniversary last week at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival with a garden designed by students to incorporate elements from its history. "The show is an opportunity to meet prospective students but also employers we can potentially work with," said interim principal Tamsin Jones.