Strategy for Developing People in the Garden Industry

Strategy for
               Developing People
             in the Garden Industry
 (incorporating education, training, HR and careers)

                       November 2007

                  Produced by the
         HTA Training and Careers Committee

The Horticultural Trades Association
Horticulture House
19, High Street

Strategy for Training and Careers


Section                                                      Page

  1.0     Introduction                                        3

  2.0     Issues Faced                                        4

             2.1 Education and Skills                         4

                Qualifications                                5

             2.2 Training                                     6

             2.3 Human Resources                              7

             2.4 Careers                                      7

  3.0     Action Plan                                         9

             3.1 Education and Skills                         9

                Qualifications                                10

             3.2 Training                                     11

             3.3 Human Resources                              12

             3.4 Careers                                      13

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Strategy for Training and Careers

1.0 Introduction
This strategy has been developed to identify the issues facing the garden industry in
terms of people and skills. The success of any industry is driven by the people within
it. It is essential, as an industry, that we can recruit and retain the right people, with
the right skills to take the sector forwards within an increasingly competitive market.

The garden industry is dynamic having gone through a period of growth it is having to
change yet again in response to the market and the cost of production. The industry is
dealing with a labour crisis and this shortage of high quality individuals within the
sector is affecting productivity and the long term sustainability of the sector. It is
essential that the supply of skills into the sector keeps up with the rate of industry
change. This strategy details the challenges faced by each sector within the garden
industry and attempts to identify what can be done to improve the situation.

The strategy has been produced by the HTA following detailed discussion within the
HTA Training and Careers Committee. The HTA will seek to implement the Action
Plan through close working with all relevant stakeholders to ensure the industry gets
the best deal for the future.

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Strategy for Training and Careers

2.0 Issues Faced
The garden industry is made up of the following key sectors:

   o   Production – nurseries supplying the retail and amenity market
   o   Retail – garden centres, including catering operations
   o   Landscaping – domestic and commercial landscaping
   o   Manufacturing – suppliers into the garden retail market

The issues faced across the garden industry are fairly common although the solutions
may well be sector specific.

2.1 Education and Skills

Historically, the garden industry has relied on specialist horticultural colleges and
universities producing well educated, knowledgeable and skilled individuals to meet
its skills demands. The number and quality of students now leaving college, and of
use to the industry, has declined considerably. This is due to a complex mix of
reasons combining the changing aspirations of young people and changes to the
funding and provision of relevant education. In simple terms fewer people consider
the garden industry for employment or a career. In the past most people came into
this sector with at least some level of horticultural education behind them and
horticultural colleges and universities were the main providers of employees.

Society has changed on the back of urbanisation and the growth of a strong, service
based, market economy. The range of employment opportunities now available is
larger than it has ever been and the garden industry has been left behind in the broader
faster growing service, retail and manufacturing sectors. Young people are less
interested in the garden industry than in the past, or rather they are less interested in
gaining a horticultural education as a way into a career. In many cases young people
will respond positively to a career in this sector but the perception of poor pay and
conditions, in the eyes of parents, will often cause young people to be steered in a
different direction.

In parallel to societal changes, colleges and universities have had to become
commercially viable in their own right. Running courses and investing in
horticultural education, when demand for it is falling, does not make commercial
sense and therefore many colleges have cut, or significantly reduced, their
horticultural education provision to the point where the industry is left with a small
number of colleges that provide any form of horticultural education. On top of that
industry is often critical of the quality of the education and the low level of skills in
those that have been horticulturally educated.

Colleges that formerly focused on horticultural education, have now diversified to
supply courses in greater demand and the industry must recognise that this is unlikely
to change.

The industry is therefore faced with fewer skilled people coming into it and fewer
mechanisms for providing commercially relevant horticultural education. It is
important that a horticultural education provision is maintained within the UK to

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Strategy for Training and Careers

provide the horticultural skills for the future, but this can only work if there are people
coming through who will use it. Interest in horticulture needs to be cultivated at a
younger age to stimulate interest in horticulture when it comes to choosing further
education. For this reason the industry can no longer leave the job of horticultural
education to just colleges and universities. The Government is promoting vocational
education at a younger age and there are opportunities to incorporate horticultural
education within the 14-19 years age group and further work is needed to get this in
place. At present, where ‘horticulture’ is taught it often has a very poor status within
the school and reserved for lower ability children. The perception is wrong at all

Another dimension to the skills shortage issues is that the garden industry has also
changed and a horticultural education is sometimes a lower priority than other skills.
For example, garden centres prefer to employ good retailers rather than good
horticulturists and any horticultural education is provided post-employment typically
through training schemes like the HTA Retail Plant Care Award. Nurseries are
increasingly looking for staff with good management, IT, science and technological
skills with horticultural knowledge to be added in the workplace. Any future formula
for sector skills and career promotion needs to adequately consider this fundamental

Key skills are also often found to be lacking in school leavers and the HTA agrees
with CBI statements on the detrimental effects such a decline will have on the UK
economy. Young people must have the basics of literacy and numeracy before
entering the world of work.


The ability to gain qualifications for skills of relevance to the garden industry
continues to be important for all stakeholders. For the student, qualifications enable
them to demonstrate skills to employers and track career progression; for employers,
they provide skills benchmarks and fundamentally access to funding; and for
education providers, they also provide the funding and the credibility.

Within production horticulture and landscaping, the qualification structure is based
around National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). These qualifications are
regularly reviewed by the Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) – Lantra for production
horticulture and landscaping and Skillsmart for retail – in association with the HTA
and deliverers. Although the horticultural content is still technically relevant there are
two main problems in successful implementation. Firstly employers can no longer
afford to spare staff time to develop a broad horticultural education when their
business may be highly specialised, and secondly, the drop in demand for horticultural
education has left the remaining NVQ delivery to be sporadic and variable in quality.

Employers increasingly want to provide ‘bite-sized’ learning to staff to develop the
specific skills they require, but at present, funding mechanisms prevent such an
approach from receiving funding.

Landscaping has followed a similar path to production horticulture with greater
interest in garden design courses than landscape construction. Many landscape

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Strategy for Training and Careers

companies are small businesses that cannot afford the time or expense of sending staff
on extensive courses. To address this issue, the HTA developed the HTA Landscape
Training Award but again this is not yet eligible for external funding.

Within garden centre retailing, NVQ based qualifications are rarely used; in fact this
is true across the retail industry. Garden centres typically provide on-the-job training
or support staff in completing courses like the HTA Retail Plant Care, Shop Care and
Supervisory Awards which were developed specifically to fill the gap in funded
training. It is important that such schemes do become eligible for funding to further
incentivise training in the sector.

2.2 Training

The ongoing training of staff within a business is important for career progression for
the individual, for staff retention and to ensure the business is utilising the latest skills
within the business. Considerable research has been conducted to demonstrate the
close link between investing in training and business productivity. The garden
industry is generally poor at recognising this link and poor at providing structured
training for staff. Further work is required to demonstrate to the sector how a
strategic approach to staff development is linked to productivity and how by investing
in the right training profitability can be improved. The provision of training by
businesses marks them out as better employers and even though some trained staff
may be lost to other businesses the business that trains is in a better position to recruit
and retain the best people.

The difficulty in accessing funding for the training that businesses need is a
significant problem. So many Government funding initiatives come and go that each
one needs to be re-learnt by the industry. Different colleges have different sources of
funding and promote themselves very differently to businesses. Recent training
funding initiatives have included the Vocational Training Scheme (VTS), Train to
Gain, Women and Work and the European Social Fund. These are all in addition to
some core funding of courses from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC). Ideally,
Government need to simplify the allocation of training funding but, failing that the
industry needs to be provided with a clear breakdown of funding sources available
and how it can access the funding. With so much training funding allocated on a
regional basis, this is challenging but important to stimulate more interest in training.
There tends to be considerable bureaucracy associated with accessing funding and this
undoubtedly slows the take up of funding. The ability for training groups and HTA to
be able to administer funding on behalf of industry would significantly increase the
take up of training.

Not only is funding difficult to access, but the language in which training information
is communicated is unfriendly to SMEs and turns them off from looking further into
it. Clearer methods of communication need to be established, especially relating to
SSC communication and funding information.

The production sector relies increasingly on migrant labour to meet its demand for
casual labour during peak periods. A number of companies have used migrant labour
extensively to the point where foreign staff have taken on permanent supervisory or
management positions. Employing staff, for whom English is not their first language,

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Strategy for Training and Careers

presents training challenges and this has been addressed to varying degrees by
colleges and trainers around the country, but further work is required.

2.3 Human Resources

The legislative burden associated with employing people continues to rise, whether it
be from wages issues (Agricultural Wages Board and National Minimum Wage),
working time, holidays, maternity, discrimination, disciplinary or any number of other
regulations. Not only does this add extra administrative burden to a business but it
also increases the risk to the business that does not do it all correctly. The industry
needs to be kept informed of legislation changes and advised on the most cost-
effective ways to ensure compliance and best practice.

The use of migrant labour adds new layers of complexity and presents the need to
ensure all legal responsibilities are appropriately discharged, especially for example
the communication of health and safety information.

With fewer people coming into the garden industry the need to get recruitment,
retention and motivation right first time is increased. All sectors need further help in
how to recruit and retain the best staff.

2.4 Careers

The garden industry has a problem in terms of attracting good people to work within
it. This could be due to a number of reasons:

   o Lack of awareness and promotion of the sector
   o Sector appears unattractive and associated with poor conditions
   o Poorly defined career paths

Lack of Awareness

Many young people proceeding through education are unaware of career opportunities
within the garden industry. This is probably due to the fact that the industry has not
promoted itself to those in education and those that advise them, including careers
advisors and the Connexions services. The industry has failed to tap into modern
methods of communicating careers information to young people.

Sector Appears Unattractive

The garden industry, especially at the production level, has developed a poor image
being linked to farming and gardening and the low status and poor working conditions
associated with them. Modern nurseries and garden retailers are now very different to
the stereotype which still puts people off. The industry needs to do more to promote
itself for what it is now. Overly linking the sector with the term horticulture may well
be unhelpful. Modern nurseries are closer to the manufacturing industry than farming
or gardening and garden centres have to compete with the latest retail thinking.
Landscaping businesses are really operating within the construction industry. When
promoting careers within the garden industry it would probably be better to align

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Strategy for Training and Careers

them with retailing, manufacturing, environment and construction rather than the
traditional horticultural approach.

Poorly Defined Career Paths

New entrants to the industry need to be assured that it can offer them a clear career
progression. This can be a challenge within small businesses but within the industry
as a whole there are career paths with many that have made successful careers for
themselves within the industry. More needs to be done to show what those career
paths can look like, but also to demonstrate that they can link with broader retail,
manufacturing and construction careers. This demonstrates to a wider audience that
the garden industry is not only for horticulturists.

There has been little promotion of careers within the sector and this needs to be
tackled seriously for the future.

                       The Horticultural Trades Association                             8
Strategy for Training and Careers

3.0 Action Plan
In response to the analysis of the issues faced by the garden industry the following
strategy action plan has been prepared. This plan identifies both what is being done
and needs to be done.

The HTA will maintain and strengthen the interface with Lantra and Skillsmart to
ensure that the right information is communicated to the industry, the right research is
conducted and working together there leads to an improvement in skills within the
garden industry. It is important that the SSCs identify what the industry wants and
co-ordinates funding streams.

3.1 Education and Skills

Understanding current education provision – to understand the nature of education
provision currently available a review of current provision will be undertaken by
Lantra. From the results of this it will be possible to identify gaps in provision both
by skill area and geography. This will identify areas where provision must be
improved, or alternative mechanisms developed, to meet the education and training
needs of businesses.

Putting in place the best structure for horticultural education - it may well be
from this that the industry identifies a number of, or a single, centre(s) of excellence
from which to promote exemplary horticultural education. Following such a review it
may be that the endorsement of a small number of high quality full time courses is
better for the industry than maintaining a larger number of poor quality courses. The
identified centre(s) of excellence could be heavily promoted by the HTA and the
broader industry within careers and promotional material. It is important that centre
of excellence colleges and universities work together to develop a promotional
package that is attractive to potential students and meets the needs of employers. A
new group, made up of representatives of these establishments, would need to be
developed to facilitate this process.

For the centre of excellence model to work, it may be necessary to gain a stronger
commitment from industry to supporting such ventures and this would need to be
established at the time.

Reaching school children – the industry has an opportunity at present to reach school
children within their education. Government is encouraging vocational education for
14-19 year olds. Examples of how horticulture can be taught in secondary education
will be identified and promoted to other schools. This will undoubtedly include
incorporating the subject under an ‘environmental’ banner to make it more attractive
to schools and teachers. It may be that the industry will have to identify ways in
which it can support such initiatives in providing access to businesses within the

For younger children, there are also opportunities to inspire them and teach them
about horticulture. The science framework for Key Stage Two within the national
curriculum includes modules where plants can be grown and tested to assess basic
biological principles. A mechanism for involving industry with primary schools, to

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Strategy for Training and Careers

facilitate this, needs to be developed. Teachers would welcome a kit, which would
include a number of small plants needed to carry out experiments, and instructions on
how it could be delivered in line with national curriculum requirements. The HTA
will engage with the RHS to assess the potential for combining efforts on reaching
school children. An exercise will be conducted to identify nurseries and Garden
Centres willing to provide low cost plant material to schools within a local
educational authority (LEA) and packs developed and sent out to schools. Within
this, it may also be possible to offer field trips to local garden industry businesses. A
‘Plants for Schools’ campaign may be appropriate with buy-in from HTA members.
Access to this through appropriate teacher resource websites could also be facilitated.

Key Stage 3 is also an important area that would benefit from industry input and a
similar analysis and programme for reaching children at this level will need to be

Non-horticultural education – it has been acknowledged that many new entrants to
the industry may not come through the traditional route of horticultural education but
they will need to be attracted to the sector following completion of other courses. An
exercise will be undertaken to identify other courses which focus on developing skills
which may also be of interest to garden industry employers, for example courses on
business, technology, IT, environment, retail, garden design and the sciences. A
database of contacts of providers in these areas will need to be developed and a
‘garden industry’ offer developed for them. This may include a suggested module on
the sector (that also meets the curriculum requirements of that course) or the offer of
teaching support or field visits. A careers pack/web-based tool should also be
developed to demonstrate to these students how they can use their skills within the
garden industry. A way needs to be found for garden industry businesses to open
themselves up to those studying non-horticultural courses. A database of willing
businesses will be compiled and distributed to appropriate colleges and universities.

Graduates should specifically be targeted and work in engaging with universities will
be important.


Recognition of ‘bite-sized’ learning – it is important that Government recognise
bite-sized learning within qualification structures. The HTA will continue to lobby
Government, in conjunction with the SSCs, to this end and the follow on that means
such training becomes eligible for LSC funding. Lantra expect these bite-sized
options to be available for horticulture during 2008.

NVQ assessment framework – with the advent of bite-sized learning it will be
important that the framework for assessors is improved and made more manageable
for those involved with it.

Accreditation of HTA Training Awards – work will be carried out to align the HTA
Training Awards with NVQ qualifications to enable accreditation of the training and
therefore the opportunity for employers to draw down funding for them. This will
begin first with the re-write of the HTA Retail Shop Care Award and will be migrated
to the other Training Awards following successful implementation of this. If

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Strategy for Training and Careers

Government do move towards allowing funding for bite-sized training then this
process will be much easier.

Promote success – those that successfully complete both HTA and other training
should be celebrated more within the sector. Highlighting case studies will motivate
more individuals and businesses to pursue such qualifications.

3.2 Training

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) – the SSCs will be encouraged and
assisted in developing a database of employees within the industry. So much
information on training never reaches employees and more needs to be done to
demonstrate to employees within the sector how they can progress their own
development within the garden industry. Such a Network could be a web-based
system, utilising electronic communication to individuals that register. The Network
would be used to promote training, development and funding opportunities direct to
employees at the same time as encouraging employers to utilise such an approach.
Both Lantra and Skillsmart are developing skills passports to enable employees to
demonstrate training and CPD and such a system could act as the basis for this.

The HTA will provide certificates of attendance for HTA events to help encourage the
collation of CPD evidence by individuals within the sector.

Funding – accessing funding is a minefield for employers. A ‘how to’ guide will be
produced on training funding available and how to access it.

Linking training with business profitability – to improve the take-up of training
within the industry the HTA, in conjunction with the SSCs, will seek to identify
exemplars of best practice from those businesses that have identified training as a
priority and seen improved business performance. These will then be promoted to
member businesses.

Co-ordinating training provision – there is a lot of training going on within the
industry but it tends to be scattered and uncoordinated. The HTA will develop a
training database, or work in association with the Lantra Coursefinder database, to
help employers find appropriate training and trainers for their business. A web-based
industry training calendar will be produced that identifies scheduled HTA and other
training courses within the UK providing an easy reference for employers. The
success of this will depend on successfully building a communication network with
training providers. The HTA will seek to become members of training networks
operating within Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). These are being
developed to facilitate training funding within the new RDPE funding mechanism.
This will be piloted with SEEDA in the south east during 2008.

Meeting training needs – the HTA will continue to identify the training needs within
the sector through its retail, grower and technical committees. The HTA will continue
to provide training through the HTA Training Awards and specific workshops, such
as the Plantarea Masterclasses, Plantarea training and landscaping workshops.
Further specific courses will be developed in response to specific issues identified
with the HTA Retail, Grower and Technical Strategies or other organisations could be

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Strategy for Training and Careers

encouraged to meet the training needs. The HTA will strengthen links with the Retail
Academy to identify training mechanisms and initiatives, which may more
appropriately deliver training to the retail sector and will work with Skillsmart to feed
into the National Skills Academy Skills Shops.

Specific training needs being and to be addressed by the HTA include leadership and
management training, plant and retail skills for garden centre staff, practical plant and
hard landscaping training for APL members and the need for further training for those
working within catering operations within garden centres. Catering training will be
developed in association with the British Hospitality Association. Tools for training
migrant labour are important and the HTA will work to ensure good access to such

Induction training – members require more support in delivering induction training
to new staff. The HTA will develop a new Induction Kit for members.

Employer mentoring – many employers need assistance on how best to support staff
in training. HTA will identify employer mentoring training opportunities, such as
through the Retail Skills Academy, and promote to members.

3.3 Human Resources

HR information and support – the HTA will continue to operate the HTA
Employment Advice Line and the HTA Legal Advice Line providing telephone and
email support for members. Rapidly changing employment legislation means that the
provision of printed information is more difficult to maintain. The HTA will identify
a HR partner for providing online information for HTA members.

HTA HR Forum – the HTA will continue to run its HR Forum, bringing together HR
managers from leading HTA businesses. Best practice will be drawn from this group
for promotion to the broader membership.

HR Conference – the HTA will run a HR conference during 2009 to bring together
experts and industry to ensure the spread of best practice within this area.

Employment law training – the HTA will run basic employment law training
workshops for HTA members.

HR Qualifications – the HTA will promote relevant HR qualifications, such as
CIPD, to promote professionalism within this area in the sector.

AWB and NMW – the HTA will continue to lobby AWB to resist pushing wages and
other conditions beyond NMW levels to enable nursery producers to compete fairly
within the labour market and keep down rising costs. The abolition of the AWB
would be welcomed by the industry and HTA will continue to press Government for
this. The HTA will continue to respond to NMW consultations and present the case
for minimal wage rises to assist employers and maintain the sustainability of the

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Strategy for Training and Careers

Wages survey – the HTA will continue to run its annual wages survey for growers
and retailers and LBIS will run a similar survey for landscapers. Results will be made
freely available to participants and headline results promoted in the trade press.

Migrant labour – HTA will provide clear guidance to HTA members on employing
migrant labour through the HTA Employment Advice Line and Information Centre.

Recruitment and retention of staff – research will be conducted to identify the most
effective methods for quality staff recruitment, retention and motivation within the
sector. Following completion of this the results will be communicated to members
through interactive workshops around the country. This should also lead to the
publication of a recruitment workbook and guidance notes. Exemplars of best
practice in this area will be promoted.

In depth business support – the HTA will develop a HR consultancy package for
members. This will provide business specific support in legal compliance and staff
development strategies.

3.4 Careers

Career paths – an exercise will be conducted to clearly map career paths within the
industry. These paths may interface with other industries, i.e. retail, manufacturing
and construction, but will clearly identify progression routes that are not solely based
on horticultural skills. Final paths will then be marketed to potential entrants as
defined below.

Raising awareness – the HTA will develop its website to incorporate more
information on the garden industry and promoting careers within it. These web-based
tools will be communicated to those that influence young people on career issues,
particularly teachers and careers advisers who currently are poorly informed on the
sector. New material, whether web-based or paper, will be designed to eradicate
negative images and demonstrate genuine career potential. It will be important to
develop better communication channels with Connexions throughout the country.
HTA is a member of the Greenskills initiative. Greenskills is developing a web-based
tool, aimed at young potential entrants into the horticultural industry. This tool will
include case studies and guidance for potential entrants on opportunities within the
sector including case study downloadable clips. This will also link to the HTA
website but it is expected that the HTA site will be the core for promoting careers
within the garden industry.

Enticing newly qualified individuals into the sector – to encourage graduating
students from both horticultural and non-horticultural courses to consider joining the
garden industry the HTA will ensure representation of the garden industry at major
careers fairs and events across the country. Depending on the success of this HTA
will assess the feasibility of running a Garden Industry Careers Day to which students,
teachers and Connexions staff across the country will be invited to. The day could
include talks on what can be expected from the sector and the opportunity for
individual businesses to promote opportunities within their companies. This could be
a one-stop-shop for interested individuals.

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