Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group industry survey shows skills shortages

A survey by the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group has found businesses in the sector don't expect automation to decrease skills shortages.

The study confirmed that more skilled workers are urgently required - but found skilled workers already in the industry are younger than expected.

AHDB Horticulture, RHS, Arboricultural AssociationBALIChartered Institute of HorticultureLandex, HTA and NFU - all members of the Roundtable - contracted Pye Tait Consulting to gather data.

A shortage of skills and access to labour followed environmental issues as the other top drivers for change. These findings will now form the focus for the development of an industry skills strategy.

Analysis of more than 1,100 businesses’ responses unexpectedly found the average age of skilled workers (excluding seasonal workers and volunteers) is 40.1 years old, below the UK national average of 41.5.

Only 3% of the industry are supervisors, which could be seen as an impediment to growth. The number of supervisory staff is expected to increase by 8.5% in the next two years, while 10% of supervisor vacancies were reported to have remained open over a three-year period.

Some 6% of vacancies reported over the last three years remain open, concentrated in highly skilled occupations including skilled trades (14% of vacancies unfilled as of the survey date), professional/technical roles (11%) and supervisors (10%). The combined proportion of these professional groups constitutes 35%. Staff required in skilled trades, professionals and supervisors combined is set to increase by 23% in the next two years.

Skills required will include using specialist and basic machinery/equipment, soil science, landscape design, biosecurity and environmental awareness. 

The industry could be worth 50% more than the current £24bn if the skills gap is filled, BALI has suggested.

There are also difficulties in accessing sector-relevant external training. In this context, the sector’s resourcefulness is demonstrated by a high rate of on-the job training, though skills shortages and gaps persist. In addition, skills shortages and the availability of labour rank prominently among the main drivers of future change.

Businesses in the sector do not expect automation, robotics and other technologies to have a disruptive impact that could reduce workforce needs over the immediate coming years (3 to 5 years). Overall, the businesses in the sector confirm that the majority of tasks in the sector require a specialist skills-set and a decidedly human touch.

Nevertheless, innovative technology (such as drones or upgrades in existing equipment like electric chainsaws) are being integrated into work processes, but not yet to the point of replacing workers. In addition, businesses predict that Brexit will affect labour force supply, particularly in seasonal work, while public opinion in and understanding of the sector may also affect the availability of labour.

Other findings include there is an average of 1.4 apprentice per business. A large part of the sector is not in scope of the Apprenticeship Levy, becaise of their annual payroll size being below over £3m and, therefore, are not encouraged as such to look at the benefits such investment could bring.

The report found: "In light of these results, despite its highly significant contribution to the UK economy, the ornamental horticulture sector is facing a watershed moment in its workforce succession planning, skills needs and related growth opportunities. To address these issues, the sector will need to tackle issues linked to these skills shortages and gaps, promote recruitment, and acquire improved and more local access to relevant training along with a sustainable talent pipeline. These challenges may not be met by the sector alone, but would benefit external support from government and stakeholders in education, careers advice and careers promotion."

To view the full report on the survey and the additional five sub-sector reports visit: ahdb.org.uk/ornamentals-skill-survey-2019

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