Learn and earn with a horticulture apprenticeship

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Apprenticeships are a great way to earn and learn at the same time and there are plenty of apprenticeship opportunities in horticulture and landscaping. But don’t take our word for it, Ann tells us why she enjoys her Level 3 Apprenticeship.

Who are you and what is your job?

“I am a Level 3 Supervisor Apprentice, working for the City of London City Gardens, currently studying for my Apprenticeship at Capel Manor college”.

How did you get into horticulture?

“I left school and studied fashion and design, going on to study costume for theatre and film. I then went on to pursue a career as a theatrical costumier, making costumes for West End shows like Wicked, Thriller and Phantom of the opera.

After 9 years in the fashion and costume industry, mostly working indoors, I decided I wanted a change and to try something new, so I started looking into different career possibilities. Not knowing where to start, I focused on what I enjoyed, which was being outdoors, involved with nature and wildlife, as I have had an interest in gardens for as long as I can remember. My parents took me to gardens and flower shows from a young age, but I never considered a career in horticulture. With a little research, and an intertest in working with trees and plants, and I decided I wanted to venture into a career in horticulture. This has given me opportunity to utilise my meticulous attention to detail, and friendly and professional manner, and I still continue to work with colour, texture and design, but with plants as my medium instead of fabric”.

Why did you choose to do an apprenticeship?

“Going back to college or university was not an option, as I needed to earn money to pay my bills. An apprenticeship enabled me to earn as I studied, however, I didn’t think an apprenticeship was an option for me because I was no longer in the age bracket of 16-24. The term apprentice to me referred to a younger person embarking upon on-the-job training, the reality is very different, apprenticeships span from entry level to management and are available for any age. Apprenticeships have evolved considerably over the last few years with the course content becoming more in-depth and challenging. You are able to get hands-on practical experience in a real job role, learning the right skills in the right environment. This was important to me, as I felt I needed to get a feel for the industry, not just the subject in a classroom environment. I applied for the apprenticeship at City Gardens, and successfully completed my Level 2 Landscape Operative. There was an opportunity for me to continue working in City Gardens, and gain my Level 3 Supervisor qualification, which I am currently working towards”.

Were careers in horticulture/landscaping ever promoted at your school?

“A career in horticulture was never mentioned to me when I was younger. During my time at school, basic plant biology was only touched on briefly within science lessons, but horticulture was never mentioned or even suggested in careers advice sessions. It was not until I stumbled across it many years after leaving school that I became aware of it as a potential job. Sadly, the same is true of many young people today, there seems to be a lack of imagination when it comes to careers advice for young people, and horticulture tends to be a last resort, pointed out only to those who have failed academically. It’s a common assumption that gardening and horticulture is a job for people who aren’t qualified for anything else, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a highly skilled profession and most of the people in the industry have a string of qualifications to their name. You may think gardening and horticulture is a profession mainly for young men who climb trees with chain saws. Or maybe you think its too late for a career in horticulture for you, or that it isn’t for people like you, this is not the case, there are a wide variety of opportunities within horticulture. You can work as a Garden Designer or a Professional Gardener. And you could work in a Retail Plant Nursery or Garden Centre, manage or work in a historic garden or a big garden. You could be a Landscaper, or go into plant science, forestry, park keeping and more”.

What do you get up to on an average day in your role?

“There is no such thing as an average day within my job, most of the time I am outside, which I really love. I always wanted a job where I could get out and about. The City Gardens team, which I am part of, are responsible for green space management of around 170 sites within the square mile, which includes gardens, churchyards, planters, and street trees. A lot of our work involves general maintenance of the sites, such as weeding gardens, keeping green spaces and walkways clear of debris and litter, providing plants with appropriate seasonal care, cutting hedges and lawns, looking after herbaceous flower borders, preparation, and planting of our seasonal bedding displays. We are also involved with different project work throughout the city such as planting street trees and the redevelopment of different areas.  In my current role, I supervise four Level 2 Apprentices, so my daily role involves supporting them with their studies, providing encouragement, feedback, and suggestions for development. I am involved with their training needs which includes machinery, as well as organising and overseeing appraisals and onsite practical assessments”.

What do you enjoy about your job?

“One of the things I enjoy about my job is working within a great team, when I first started as a Level 2, I was new to horticulture with no experience, I doubted my abilities and questioned myself throughout my two-year apprenticeship. The team I was working with really supported me, and I was able to learn many skills that will help me in the industry. I have found the people in this industry to be welcoming, helpful, and eager to pass on their knowledge. I absolutely love seeing the plants change throughout the seasons, I love learning about plants, and I am constantly learning new plants, although I find the Latin scientific names challenging, its enjoyable being able to recognise plants when I am out and about, and I can reflect and increase my knowledge and understanding all the time. The other aspect I enjoy is the critical thinking and problem solving, which keeps me busy”.

What are the specific skills you have learnt that are unique to this industry?

“I have discovered there are many skills you gain when going into horticulture, each sector has various specialised technical skills. However, the one thing I have learnt from my tutor, is that they are all underpinned by basic horticultural science, including soil and water management, plant nutrition, pests and disease management, and plant knowledge. You can start with a basic understanding of these subjects or delve into them in more depth, but at the end of the day having even a basic understanding, will make daily tasks easier and more enjoyable. There are of course lots of practical skills that are unique, for example the different pieces of horticulture machinery”.

Why should people consider a career in horticulture/landscaping?

“Horticulture is a worthwhile, important career, and provides a salary that is sustainable but has a wide variety of sectors to suit every character. The horticultural sector is extremely diverse, and it is also one of the largest UK employers. When you research horticultural careers a little further, you’ll find work can range from Professional Gardening to specialist scientific roles. There are lots of opportunities to consider, with many different routes into horticulture, that are suitable for people from all academic backgrounds. Many can enter the industry via an apprenticeship scheme like me, or undertake other relevant vocational qualifications in horticulture, and some people can even take degrees in subjects like environmental science, earth science or botanical sciences, before breaking into this industry. I would definitely recommend the apprentice route; it is a fantastic learning experience”.

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