Stepping up from the shop floor to management is easier in horticulture than in many other sectors. With craft-level horticulture skills already under your belt, the extra skills that will you need to move on are likely to be those that relate to management more generally.
Often, experience, enthusiasm and aptitude mean more than paper qualifications to employers in the industry who are looking to promote staff. And many employers in horticulture offer courses to employees on day-release or by setting aside time at work to study.
Bedfordshire-based Poplars Garden Centre managing director David Little says: "All our department supervisors have come up through the ranks." He believes that giving staff responsibility motivates them to better themselves. "I used to run a discussion group for 20 garden centre managers. We found that the sales promotions that worked best were the ones staff did themselves."
Selecting the qualifications
The RHS general certificate is a great start for anyone wanting to gain solid theoretical and practical horticulture knowledge. Garden Retail-award winning Coolings Garden Centre in Kent is one horticulture business that offers the certificate to all staff who want to do it.
Another good starting point is Lantra, the Sector Skills Council for the environmental and land-based industries. The council is licensed by the Government to drive forward the new skills, training and business development agenda for the sector. It is responsible for setting National Occupational Standards in amenity and production horticulture.
More geared towards the retail sector, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has developed a Leadership and Management programme, accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management, delivered in the workplace and leading to a recognised qualification.
The HTA's Business Improvement Schemes continue, helping growers and retailers to progress in the industry. Modules cover areas such as personal effectiveness, learning styles and time management, business vision, strategy, change management, marketing, leadership, motivation and managing performance. Sessions are also available on communication, influencing, employment law, diversity, team development, problem solving and conducting effective meetings.
Heritage gardening training is increasingly popular with career changers and gardeners. The Historic and Botanic Gardens Bursary Scheme (HBGBS) enables enthusiastic and committed horticulturists to increase horticultural and other technical skills through training placements, in historic and botanic gardens.
HBGBS coordinator Fiona Dennis says that to move up to management, gardeners work within an organisation, switch organisation or just take opportunities when they arise. She adds: "Management roles are significantly different from being a gardener or plantsman. Head gardeners increasingly have to spend time behind a desk dealing with issues such as health and safety, training and events."
In amenity horticulture, parks management training courses are available via GreenSpace and Cabe Space. The latter's Skills to Grow strategy aims to address the lack of management skills in the green space sector. It is designed for people working in local, regional and national Government, and independent green space organisations.
In groundsmanship, Oatridge College in West Lothian runs a Sportsturf Management Degree for those in work, and Greenwich University has a Foundation Degree in Amenity Management.
Institute of Groundsmanship (IoG) training and education coordinator Chris Costello says the City & Guilds Advanced National Certificate Level 3 Sports and Amenity Management course is ideal for groundsmen who want a more senior role. He explains: "Most people realise they need qualifications now. Many head groundsmen are near the end of their careers and their assistant groundsmen want to make sure they get the job."
The course takes a year and usually involves working in your own time across eight units. Many employers pay the £1,500 fee but the IoG hopes Level 3 funding may come from Government to pay for courses in the future.
Arboricultural Association director Nick Eden explains that tree surgeons tend to learn management skills via MBAs or short courses in marketing and finance. Practitioners can then move to consultancy, which has a specific skill set that is difficult to teach.
Wherever you are in horticulture, if you see a step up to management as the way to develop your career, there will be a course to help you take that step.