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Growing careers

Sara Sharp of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture explains how the horticulture industry is encouraging young people to grow their own careers.

Most people remember that at school, there was never an option to study horticulture. Teachers knew nothing of the opportunities available. The UK governmental careers advice service, Connexions, which was disbanded in 2011, seemed to largely direct pupils into the recognised professional career paths, such as law, teaching and nursing.

Grow Careers Website

After identifying both the skills crisis and the aging workforce within the horticulture industry, a large group of influential organisations in the horticulture sector decided that something had to be done. Grow Careers was created to address this lack of horticultural careers advice for young people. One of the main issues is that careers in horticulture still have a very poor image of low pay, muddy fingernails and back breaking work. However, this not the case and the Grow Careers portal was set up to show all the fantastically varied and skilled careers that are available in the industry. 

The Grow Careers vision is to be a clear, inspiring source of information for those entering, or progressing within, the horticulture industry. Its mission is to both increase the number of new entrants into the sector and inform the progression and diversification of careers within the industry. It aims to achieve this through the promotion of horticulture as an exciting and dynamic career to both potential entrants and those that influence them, by providing easily accessible careers information across the sector.

The impact of Brexit is making it more important than ever for the UK to be able to encourage and nurture young horticulturists. Recent research from the Horticultural Trades Association estimates that ‘among its commercial grower members, up to a third of the workforce is made up of non-UK, EU nationals. EU nationals are heavily represented in the seasonal workforce. At present many employers within the sector take advantage of freedom of movement – which allows any EU citizen to live and work freely across the EU – by employing staff from across the European Union, as either full time or seasonal workers’[1].

the Grow Careers portal was set up to show all the fantastically variedand skilled careers that are available in the industry'


There are several schemes and competitions being run all over the country with the aim of encouraging young people to find out about horticulture and what it can offer. The RHS ‘Green Plan It’ competition has had great success after it was introduced towards the end of last year in schools all over the country. ‘The Green Plan It Challenge is a 10-week project for Year 8-9 / S2-3 students encouraging them to rethink the role of green spaces, either in their own school or their local community’[2].

The Chartered Institute of Horticulture runs the ‘Young Horticulturist of the Year’ competition annually, which attracts around 2000 applications from all over the country from those under the age of 30. It gives young people the opportunity to compete for a £2,500 bursary to travel the world and study horticulture in a completely new way[3].

The horticulture sector needs to unite its efforts to make this work. The Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group was formed in 2014, as an industry–government partnership to identify and address key issues for growth. Careers promotion and education are central to the Action Plan produced in 2015[1].

Government Post-16 Skills Plan

With an educational environment where teachers are sometimes having to encourage students to stay on at school and study academic subjects to keep their funding for these subjects, technical and vocational options are taking a hit. The good news is that a new government initiative means that in 2019, new technical and vocational qualifications will be introduced into the post-16 education skills plan.

According to a recent statement by The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, Department for Education and Nick Boles MP ‘Thousands of ineffective courses that short-change employers and young people will be replaced with 15 straightforward routes into technical employment creating a more skilled workforce fit for modern Britain’ [5]. The proposed routes, including Agriculture, Horticulture and Animal care, will last two years and will be overseen by the Institute for Apprenticeships[6].


The horticultural industry needs to take this opportunity to positively redefine its requirements through collaboration across all sectors. This will ensure that the Grow Careers initiative reflects the needs of the industry and supports its workers, old and new. Grow Careers events will encourage young people to find out what is involved in a horticultural career and will promote discussion with key figures in the industry, who have worked their way up through the ranks and have a true passion for what they do. Government guidance for educational establishments should also help to encourage young people to pursue a horticultural path.

Sara Sharp, Communications Co-ordinator, Chartered Institute of Horticulture

Email: Tel: 03330 050181



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