Employers look abroad to fill vacancies
6 July 2012
We may think of ourselves as a nation of gardeners, but when it comes to following a career in horticulture, employers are saying there’s a shortage of British job applicants with the required skills.
While here in the UK specialist trees have been grown for the Olympic Park, and this week there’s a festival of flowers at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, an investigation by the RHS has revealed that there is a very real British ‘green skills gap’.
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.'
Frank Sandford, director of Boningale Nurseries, is one of those looking abroad for skilled applicants: “We’re already advertising in Ireland to fill jobs, and are now looking to the Netherlands. We’re honestly finding that some of our seasonal, foreign fruit-pickers have better horticulture skills than some British applicants, so we’re bringing them into the team and training them up for other roles instead.'
A steering group has been formed following an RHS conference aimed at addressing the green skills gap. The group will produce an in-depth report, implement an action plan and aim to change the public’s perception of horticulture into that of a valued and valuable career.
James Hallett, CEO British Growers Association, said; 'There are few disciplines that this industry cannot satisfy for a person’s career. What has been missing has been a concerted collaborative effort by every sector of the industry to together attract the best newcomers into a British Growing career.'
'Horticultural recruitment agencies are warning that this skills gap will loom even larger in a few years time when businesses look to expand post-recession. We must work hard now in order to attract more young people into horticultural careers, so employers looking around in future won’t still find a scarcity of home grown horticultural talent to employ and nurture,' said Sue Biggs.
The steering group, comprises BALI, Grow, HTA, Institute of Horticulture, Landex, LANTRA and the RHS .