Nurturing the horticulture leaders of tomorrow

Nurturing future leaders through in-house training scheme - credit: Johnsons of Whixley
Nurturing future leaders through in-house training scheme - credit: Johnsons of Whixley

The horticulture industry is going through a boom period as it is increasingly being recognised as a net contributor to the environment and is playing a crucial part in supplying the trees, plants and greenery that will help combat global warming. Growing and developing your horticulture career can take a variety of different routes, but one viable option available for individuals looking for the next step in a land-based career is a management trainee scheme with commercial nursery business Johnsons of Whixley. Group managing director Graham Richardson explains the benefits of on-the-job training schemes.

What is a management trainee scheme?

“Johnsons of Whixley is one of the largest commercial nursery businesses in the UK and nurtures the leaders of the future through an innovative in-house training scheme for those looking to take the next step in their horticulture career. Located 30 minutes between both York and Harrogate in rural North Yorkshire, and two minutes from the A1, Johnsons is one of Europe’s largest horticultural suppliers to the commercial sector and a family business with roots stretching back over 100 years.

“The management trainee scheme was first introduced more than 25-years ago, with the aim of developing the skill set of already accomplished individuals who are looking to get onto the management ladder in their horticulture and land-based career. The aim of the scheme is to find the managers of tomorrow, and these motivated managers will become the business’s future unit managers, section heads and leaders.

“The company has made a significant financial investment in the programme to ensure its success for candidates and the initiative helps to drive the continued growth of the business.”

What are the benefits of the scheme?

“The management training scheme is open to established individuals in the industry and provides them with the opportunity to receive management training experience. During the scheme, candidates could work across a variety of different departments including plants and growing, finance, sales, health and safety, quality, HR, IT, engineering and transport, and gain experience in sectors including landscaping, infrastructure and supply to retail.

“Joining for a minimum of two years — the time it takes to complete the scheme — candidates will be exposed to many aspects of the business and subject to increasing responsibility and growth. Additionally, they may also get the opportunity for work placements with trusted suppliers overseas. As well as the benefits of learning while at work, the candidates will be given the opportunity to study for a management qualification.

“Candidates are mentored by experts at Johnsons who guide them through the various challenges to ensure they are equipped with the skills and knowledge they will need as managers of the future. At the end of the scheme, successful candidates may be offered a full-time role in an aspect of the business that they have an affinity with.

“In addition to the benefits of growing your horticulture career in a trusted management training scheme, it is also a career that provides an individual with several wellness benefits, such as working outdoors in greenery and being physically active, which boost your mood and overall fitness. Johnsons also provides employees with a host of additional benefits including an annual attendance bonus, profit share bonus, early finishes on a Friday and regular team socials including a Christmas party.

“The scheme extols the virtues of the industry and the varied roles and opportunities available, and is suitable for true growers or those committed to a land-based career.”

What have previous candidates made of the training scheme?

A successful graduate of the management trainee scheme is Tom Watkins. One of many candidates to participate in a two-year management trainee scheme, joining in 2018, he has not looked back. Before joining, Watkins studied for a foundation degree in horticulture at Askham Bryan College and he has a real passion for plants. His programme focused on completing specific projects and participating in vocational learning, which led to a more in-depth understanding of how the industry, and Johnsons, operates. The programme saw him learn across all of Johnsons’ nurseries and on other UK and European nurseries.

Discussing his time on the scheme, Watkins says: “I have always got great satisfaction from growing plants — understanding plant biology, refining plant husbandry techniques and experimenting with different IPM [integrated pest management] strategies. Being employed by Johnsons has allowed me to hone in on these skills. With each day comes different challenges and obstacles to overcome, which allows for a steep learning curve.

“The company has also given me the opportunity to work with one
of our Dutch young plant suppliers. This was a great experience for me
as it allowed me to understand the importance of building a good relationship with the other companies that we do business with, as well as being able to work with highly skilled growers and improve my knowledge of young plant production.”

In addition to Watkins, one of the first and most successful candidates was Jonathan Whittemore, who joined fresh from college. He gained experience in a variety of nursery positions, taking on increasing responsibility in a variety of leadership roles, and is now one of Johnsons’ most senior managers, responsible for procurement, health and safety, industry politics, legal matters and transport. 

Find out more

If you are interested in working in a fast-moving commercial environment and are ambitious, capable, hardworking and looking for a career, not just a job, then find out more at

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