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GARDENS UNDER THREAT AS REPORT REVEALS SCALE OF GREEN SKILLS CRISIS

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A chronic lack of young people training to work in historic and botanic gardens could result in borders and flowerb...
A chronic lack of young people training to work in historic and botanic gardens could result in borders and flowerbeds at some of the country's finest gardens being grassed over.

An ageing workforce, negative perceptions of salaries, image and prospects and limited practical experience with formal training are just some of the factors causing a severe skills crisis, which is threatening the future of Britain's botanic and heritage gardens, according to new research findings released today by The Royal Horticultural Society.

Key findings of the report are being presented at a green skills seminar today at the Horticultural Halls in London. The seminar, for the first time brings together individuals and organisations spanning the entire 'green sector', to develop an agenda for future action to address the skills crisis.

The research, commissioned by a range of partners and initiated by English Heritage, was undertaken to map careers, to review occupations and skills required and to better understand the perceived recruitment, retention and succession crisis in some of the most influential gardens in Britain.

Key findings for the research were:

- Ageing workforce: Almost 40% of the existing workforce will be retired in 20 years time and few younger staff are available to fill their shoes. (only 5% of the respondents were under 25, 24% aged 26-35, 33% aged 36-45, 38% over 45).

- Poor promotion. More information, advice and guidance on opportunities, education and training courses is needed for the younger generation and for mature entrants.

- Perceived image and salary: greater professional recognition for skills, which is reflected in salary levels, was considered necessary by respondents. The sector salary compares well with skilled agricultural trades, but less so with skills trades occupations such as construction and building, across the economy in the UK. (source: New Earnings Survey 2003)

- Career change rs: 55% of respondents who have been in the sector for five years or less are 'second careerers' from areas as diverse as banking and mining. 33% had a degree on entering the sector (compared to a sample average of 23%) and have transferable skills of communication, problem solving, team working, customer handling as well as good computer, literacy and numeracy skills.

- Volunteers. Crucial to the sector, there is an increase in the use of volunteers. Volunteering is also seen as a good route into employment in the sector. Significantly more women than men started as volunteers in this sector. Over 44% of those in the industry for less than 3 years entered through the volunteering route, compared to just 7% who joined the industry over 20 years ago.

- Loyal workforce. 61% of respondents have been in the sector for more than 11 years, and 32% of these have remained with the same employer for that time.

- Training and knowledge: Employers and employees recognise a need for increased awareness in both practical experience and skills. The importance of apprenticeship schemes which combine both areas of practical experience with formal training is highlighted in the project. 42% of those who have been in the sector for over 20 years started on an apprenticeship scheme (45% with local authority). This declines to 18% of those in the sector for between three and 10 years. Employers identified a lack of practical knowledge, plant knowledge and plant identification. Although frameworks are available for apprenticeships there has been a poor take up by employers.

- Multi-skilled managers. The role of those who are a manager, particularly a head gardener, has changed in the last 10 years. Less time is spent in the garden and more in the office, dealing with administration, health and safety and risk assessment.

RHIS director general Andrew Colquhoun said:

'Borders and flower beds in our finest parks and gardens could be grassed over unless we can e ncourage the next generation of historical and botanic gardeners and managers. This research has given us an important insight into the needs of these staff, their roles and expectations. This seminar is a valuable opportunity for the whole 'green' sector to identify solutions to help us recruit new young talent with the range of skills to keep our gardens of the outstanding quality expected and admired by British and overseas visitors.'

Notes

Botanic and Historic Gardens Skills Research Project

The Botanic and Historic Gardens skills research project was commissioned by a partnership and initiated by English Heritage. Project managed by Lantra it was carried out by E3 Marketing and run from September 2004 until April 2005. Over 550 workers were involved with the project, giving comments and ideas about the sector's issues. Key findings from the research work will be discussed by partners, and a report produced with recommendations for action in the near future.

- Partners in the research project were: English Heritage, Lantra, PlantNetwork, Historic Houses Association, Royal Horticultural Society, The Royal Parks, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, Historic Royal Palaces, University Botanic Gardens, Professional Gardeners Guild, Corporation of London, Heritage Lottery Fund, Institute of Horticulture, Eden Project, National Trust and The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens.

- Project methodology was as follows: a questionnaire completed by 558 people (representing a response rate of 37%), 16 focus groups at eight locations in England, Scotland and Wales and individual discussions with business managers at the host venues, with partner representatives and other business managers.

About the Green Skills Seminar Organisers

1. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is the UK's leading gardening charity dedicated to advancing horticulture and promoting good gardening. RHS work includes providing expert advice and information, training the nextgeneration of gardeners, helping school children learn about plants, and conducting research into plants, pests and environmental issues affecting gardeners. For further information visit www.rhs.org.uk. The RHS employs around 160 gardeners and has around 40 trainees based at its four gardens each year.

2. Lantra, the Sector Skills Council for the environmental and land-based sector, is an employer-led organisation, representing the interests of over 360,000 businesses and 1.5 million workers in the environmental and land-based industries in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Lantra is licensed by the UK government to drive forward the new skills, training and business development agenda for the sector's 17 industries, which are: agricultural crops, agricultural livestock, animal care, animal technology, aquaculture, environmental conservation, equine, farriery, fencing, fisheries management, floristry, game and wildlife management, land-based engineering, landscaping, production horticulture, trees and timber and veterinary nursing. For more information see www.lantra.co.uk

3. English Heritage is the government's lead advisor on the historic environment. It has responsibility for all aspects of protecting and promoting the historic environment, making sure that people understand and appreciate why it matters. It looks after over 400 buildings, archaeological sites and landscapes throughout England. For further information see www.english-heritage.org.uk/parksandgardens

4. The Royal Parks are: Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St James's Park, Green Park, Regent's Park (with Primrose Hill), Richmond Park, Bushy Park and Greenwich Park. Millions of Londoners and tourists visit the eight Royal Parks each year. The 5,000 acres of carefully conserved historic parkland provide unparalleled opportunities for enjoyment, exploration and healthy living in the heart of the capital. For further infor mation see www.royalparks.gov.uk

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