Opinion... Open horticulture students' eyes to opportunities

The number of full-time students entering colleges for land based studies currently stands at 800, an unbelievably low number for the whole of the country. Colleges offering a wide range of agricultural and horticultural subjects have dropped and horticultural courses are being lost at a quite frightening rate.

To me the fundamental flaw over recent years has been the appointment of academics as principals with no horticultural experience. Commercial success in most of our disciplines comes from a good partnership between academic number-puncher and green-fingered enthusiast.

We all know the books have to balance, while in our industry keeping a blinkered eye on the horticultural ball is fundamental. There are plenty of potential recruits for nurseries, landscaping, sports turf maintenance and garden retail businesses.

Someone has to move out into schools, however, to open eyes on the wealth of opportunity available to trained IT, engineering, postgraduate scientist, HR and agronomist individuals in our growing world.

At Coolings Garden Centre recently, an employee confided that as a teenager he went on a school trip to Evans Nursery at Hadlow. What he saw so impressed him it set a working path for life. How many of you seeking new staff are going out to schools and hosting school visits?

Visiting many successful horticultural operations, the openings available for skilled people continue to impress. At Ashwood Nurseries in the West Midlands, the quality of plants and service is of the highest standard. John Massey is mentoring young people and second career entrants to ensure the future of his successful business.

Further education is now expensive and as a trade we should be doing more to subsidise this cost. I was frightened by the current RHS charges required to gain its Masters in Horticulture degree, what in my time was the NDH. There were no charges when I took this series of exams, save the cost of a correspondence course and six years horticultural experience. It was just as well with a young family of two, seven-day working and a wage of £600 a year, but well worth the effort.

There are of course bursaries and scholarships available to students, with the David Colegrave Foundation a good starting point for people interested in bedding plants, tree growing, plant breeding/scientific research and more. Companies are well advised to bring such scholarships to the notice of staff and school teenagers in their vicinity.

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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