Do you have green fingers and a gift for making things grow? If so, why not consider training to be a professional gardener?
There is a wonderful feeling of pride in seeing something you’ve nurtured grow and flourish, and for gardeners, that feeling can be a common occurrence. It may not have crossed your mind to consider gardening as a career option, but a qualification in horticulture is far more beneficial than you might expect, as the work is varied and there are loads of opportunities for those with the right skills.
Qualified gardeners can find work in many different areas. At present almost 90,000 people work in gardening in the UK – either self-employed or for private companies, households or the public sector – in areas such as interior landscaping, sports turf management, golf green keeping, botanic gardens, garden centres and public parks to name a few.
So what does it take to become a gardener? Obviously an interest in plants and an enjoyment of the outdoors are helpful, and this career is best suited to people with patience and some creativity. Qualifications in horticulture aren’t always necessary: gardeners can be hired with four or five Standard Grades under their belt, but the right qualification can help you make the best of the opportunities available, and if you’re going to work with pesticides or use machinery such as chainsaws, you will need certificates of competence.
Like many career choices, the best way to start is to get as much experience as possible. Volunteering or finding part-time work at a nursery or garden centre will give you helpful experience and knowledge for your future career. You can also gain experience and skills by taking a short course in horticulture, such as an SQA National Certificate Module or a BTEC First Certificate.
After that, there are various training routes to consider. College courses available include HNCs and HNDs, degrees and National Certificates, each of which have different entry requirements. Colleges and training providers will give you the chance to learn from specialist teachers in up-to-date facilities. There may also be the opportunity to go on work placement where your knowledge could be broadened. However, many employers in horticulture consider a Modern Apprenticeship to be the best way forward into the business.
Lantra, the Sector Skills Council of the environmental and land-based sector recommend that: “Modern Apprenticeships are an ideal way to learn on the job. You will be employed from the start of your training and receive a wage from your employer. The training will give you the chance to develop skills and knowledge through on-the-job assessments.” A Modern Apprenticeship is a win-win situation where you gain a wage, an education and work experience at the same time. You will spend part of your week at a college or training centre and the rest of your time training on the job and working towards an SVQ. A similar scheme, Skillseekers, is available to those who are looking to start at a more basic level.
Heather Buchan, a horticulture apprentice at Glasgow City Council, is glad she chose this route into the profession. “Learning in the workplace through the apprenticeship is very effective. I think that getting out into the field is a faster way to learn. You also improve your communication skills by working with different people and if you are struggling with any areas of your work, the trainers will help you become the best you can be with help and understanding.”
Employers are spread throughout the public and private sectors, and many city councils recruit horticultural trainees each year to help them with their open spaces, parks, and sports facilities. The number of apprentices they take employ varies depending on how much work is available, but larger cities such as Glasgow take on more than 20 Modern Apprentices and Skillseekers each year. The best way to find the apprenticeship that’s right for you is to search the Modern Apprenticeships website, and to look through advertisements in newspapers or stands at careers fairs, which regularly take place throughout the country.
An apprenticeship usually lasts around three years, after which, apprentices are likely to be offered permanent positions. Billy Kenny, the Training Co-ordinator for Glasgow City Council’s horticultural apprentices believes that an apprenticeship is a good opportunity for trainee gardeners to get a grasp of different areas of the job. “We relocate our apprentices every six months during their first two years, so they get at least four placements with a variety of work. We might employ them in a wall garden, then an open space, and then a nursery. They work in high quality areas as well as low quality areas. Then, in their third year, we put them into their chosen specialist area where they spend the whole year. Hopefully afterwards we can put them into employment in that area.” In Glasgow, approximately 95% of all apprenticeships result in a full-time position with the City Council.
Lantra believe that “now, more than ever, horticulture needs trained recruits. The workforce is ageing and more workers will be reaching retirement age which means there are opportunities and chances for rapid promotion, everywhere in the industry.” A career in gardening is a great choice for young people who want to arrive and leave their workplace with a sense of achievement. And with the numerous opportunities now available, anyone willing to give horticulture a chance will soon find their career coming up roses.
GARDENING PAY AND PROSPECTS
Qualified gardeners can expect to make between £10,500 to £18,500 each year. However, this figure can change depending on job demand and the type of employment. Gardeners who go into self-employment usually negotiate their hourly rate, and how much they can charge depends on where they’re located.
Chantelle Bissett became interested in gardening at a very young age thanks to her grandmother, who owned a farm in Inverness. She left school after fourth year but was too young for a Modern Apprenticeship. So she completed a one-year SGA course at Langside College before joining Glasgow City Council’s apprenticeship scheme.
Chantelle has already felt the benefits of her apprenticeship, after a display she created for Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens won first prize at Ayr Flower Show. She has also helped reconstruct Darnley Mill Park.
“I really enjoy interacting with the people that I work with” says Chantelle. “It’s a good range of people, both the qualified staff and the other apprentices.”
She is only a year and a half through her apprenticeship, but is already planning to seek permanent employment with the City Council at the end of the three years.
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