This sector has been hit hard by foreign competition and also supermarkets and DIY outlets that are putting a price squeeze on their margins. With such pressures, the training budget is often the first budget to be cut.
Cedar Associates, which provides supervisory/management training to this sector, argues that this is often a false economy. Managing director Lindsay Muir explains: “Training is not a luxury, it is essential. Investment in people usually pays back very quickly but is very difficult to measure.”
One nursery that bucks the trend and has committed heavily to training in production horticulture is Notcutts. Cedar Associates has been working with the company to develop a training programme on a series of levels to provide a career path for employees to follow. The programme was launched two years ago. Muir says: “We created this around the business, rather than hooking it into a recognised qualification.
“We try to deliver courses that are tailored to the clients’ needs, rather than to what an outside awarding body determines as important. Sometimes the two can be somewhat different.” Subjects covered include product training, craft skills, traditional production skills, such as taking cuttings, and plant identification.
Many of the supervisory management skills required in production are the same as those required in garden retail. However, the Notcutts training has included elements that are directly relevant to working on a nursery, such as managing change.
Notcutts group training adviser, Helen Reid says: “Nurseries are going through change at the moment and there’s a lot of restructuring, which is not happening much in garden centres.”
Although nurseries’ customers are not usually members of the public, they have internal customers who are equally important. Consequently, Notcutts also includes customer-service skills and training for managing the company’s internal customers as part of its programme. Reid adds: “We’ve also done things such as arrange for our nursery staff to work in our garden centres to see the other side of the fence and understand the bigger picture. If they understand this, then they understand where they fit in.”
The HTA’s Retail Plant Care Award is also relevant to those working in nurseries and could be a good way to develop the skills of staff working in production horticulture. Reid lists some benefits of training staff in this sector: “It has an incredibly motivational effect, staff feel more valued as employees, there’s an improvement in team work and they understand more the need to be flexible.”
Dawn Codgbrook, plant area manager, Secretts Garden Centre, Surrey
Codgbrook won the Retail Shop Care Award candidate of the year 2006 after gaining top marks in the course, for which she was awarded £500 to spend on further training.
“Training is very valuable. You can never stop learning in this industry. HTA courses are good because they cover exactly what we’re actually doing at the centre, as opposed to just plant courses. I work in plant care but I wanted to do the shop-care award because when I’m duty manager at the weekend I get asked other questions, not just about plants.
“For example, I’m often asked about barbecues and the gas they use and now I feel more comfortable answering non-plant questions. Training makes you feel more confident. My company provided our group of six doing the course with the workbooks. We were a well-motivated team. Two of our group had already done the Plant Care Award so knew how the courses worked.
“Every Friday morning our company allowed us to take a couple of hours to work on the course. We did this without the help of an external course trainer and instead took turns reading from the workbook then discussing different issues.
“Our company allowed us some more time to study before the exam. We also got help from other members of the garden centre. Some people in our group were less confident and didn’t think they would pass but we encouraged them and everyone ended up passing, most with merit.
“I think training can help people who are returning to work after a break or joining the industry. For those people, the courses are good because everything is in the book and you can work on it at work while doing your job, or at home.”