Planting seeds for Horticultural jobs

Interviewed after Hull City were promoted to the Premier League, Manager Steve Bruce pointed out that the pitch had made life very difficult. In other words, a better pitch means more points. Then, Ash dieback, Dutch elm disease and sudden oak death demonstrate the critical threat to trees of major importance to the UK landscape, but Britain no longer has the capability to cope with these diseases and future threats due to a severe loss of knowledge in plant pathology. Throw in global population growth from 6 to 9 billion by 2050 and the need to generate 70% more food; some climate change issues and the position looks complex. Shift the perspective to the skills to meet the needs and the position is dire. Horticulture contributes £9 billion to the British economy each year as an industry but there are real issues on succession, skills provision and, a poor perception of prospects.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) estimates that the industry will create 11,000 job vacancies over the next few years but is badly equipped to meet the needs. A Lantra Report highlights that 81% of businesses employ less than 10 people, 60% of the workforce are over the age of 40 (36% over 50) and 88% of horticulture, landscaping and sports turf workers are men. One fifth of the workforce does not hold any qualifications – more than double the UK average; 16% is qualified to Level 4 – which is 20% lower than the national average. Public perception is that migrant labour takes up all vacancies but industry specialists highlight the fact that overseas recruits are harder to find and retain as their own countries start to realise the huge potential in the horticultural industries.

Horticulture employs 300,000 (rising to over 800,000 seasonally). The Humber area employs 7,700 people (7% of UK Horticulture) working for 1,500 firms – that means the majority are SMEs. The industry is split across five main areas:

  • Production horticulture firms producing fruit, vegetables, protected crops, plants, flowers and bulbs. Workplaces range from huge greenhouses for salad crops to very large farms specialising in field grown vegetables. There is an increased need for good managerial and IT skills to programme production and manage a largely itinerant seasonal workforce.
  • Ornamental plants for nurseries and trees. There are close to 1,600 business and 2,700 retail outlets across the UK. Most garden centres employ 30 to 200 staff and the need is for a mix of horticulture and retail skills.
  • Renewable energy sourcing is adding more emphasis in this area.
  • Landscaping people in both the public and private sectors;
  • Sports turf and green keeping. This includes management of turf for Football and Rugby as well as golf.

In all cases, there is a wide range of skills needs from crop growers and gardeners to scientists, tree surgeons and turf specialists. “The international trade in plants and trees accounts for 90% of all plant pests and 58% of new plants pathogens introduced into the UK. We must make sure we have the right people with the right skills so that Britain can cope with new diseases and threats. We must invest in and recognise horticulture.”

Plant pathologists is one critical need but the industry is failing to attract enough people to plug gaps all over the industry. A series of industry Reports highlight a critical skills gap. Increases in the diversity of both food and ornamental crops are requiring a wider range of production skills. Quality control, packing and labelling are critical particularly in food production, and increased technological demands are creating an ongoing requirement for higher-level skills in information and production technologies as well as the ability to understand, set up and operate complex production systems. Business management and marketing abilities are becoming critical to enabling growers to remain competitive.

The RHS is concerned and a recent Report highlights a massive 95% of horticultural growers questioned revealed they are struggling to find enough young British job applicants with sufficiently good skills to fill vacancies. A total of 70% of respondents said they are employing more foreign skilled labour now than they were five years ago.

A sample of 20 British horticultural growers representing a cross-section of the industry from soft fruit and house plant growers to tree nurseries were interviewed in the RHS survey. The sort of skilled jobs they struggle to fill with young, British applicants include nursery technicians, plant growers and propagators, spray operators, skilled pruners, quality control and modern environmental control experts.

Sue Biggs, RHS Director General, says; ‘Until now, concerns that Britain’s ‘green skills gap’ is being increasingly filled by skilled workers from abroad have been largely anecdotal. This investigation provides evidence direct from the experiences of the growers themselves and is the starting point for much wider, more extensive research.”

On 14 May 2013, before the Centenary RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the horticultural industry will present the report ‘Horticulture Matters’ to the Coalition Government, highlighting the alarming shortage of skilled horticultural professionals in the UK today.

The report will ask the Coalition Government to prioritise horticulture within the Research Councils and other government research funding areas to equip Britain with the high level of skilled professionals that the UK needs to tackle threats posed by climate change and by pests and diseases.

For certain areas across the UK the Horticu A massive 95% of horticultural growers questioned revealed they are struggling to find enough young British job applicants with sufficiently good skills to fill vacancies. A total of 70% of respondents said they are employing more foreign skilled labour now than they were five years ago.

A sample of 20 British horticultural growers representing a cross-section of the industry from soft fruit and house plant growers to tree nurseries were interviewed in the RHS survey. The sort of skilled jobs they struggle to fill with young, British applicants include nursery technicians, plant growers and propagators, spray operators, skilled pruners, quality control and modern environmental control experts.

Sue Biggs, RHS Director General, says; ‘Until now, concerns that Britain’s ‘green skills gap’ is being increasingly filled by skilled workers from abroad have been largely anecdotal. This investigation provides evidence direct from the experiences of the growers themselves and is the starting point for much wider, more extensive research.’

The Horticultural industry offers huge potential and the RHS report will start the process of raising the profile. The fact is that, like Logistics, few young people are aware of the significant career opportunities that exist. It is time to plug the gap.

 

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