Suffolk: Royal Horticultural Society highlights huge skills gap is threatening the industry

Eddie O'brien, gardener, is becoming a rare species

Eddie O'brien, gardener, is becoming a rare species - Credit: Archant

A skills gap in the horticultural industry is threatening the economy, environment and food security, according to a new report.

The report reveals that seven out of 10 horticultural businesses cannot fill skilled vacancies, nearly one in five are forced to recruit overseas and almost 70% say career entrants are inadequately prepared for work.

Sue Biggs, director general of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), spearheading the report, is calling for urgent action to bridge the skills gap.

She said: “We are unanimous in the belief that there must now be urgent action to save British horticulture and it must happen now.

“Our report calls on the Government, employers and those in the education system to take action to safeguard the critical role that horticulture plays in Britain today.”

But Martyn Davey, director of land-based education at Easton and Otley College, said the college is working hard to bridge the gap by talking with the region’s businesses and investing in facilities. “Aside from investing in a new horticultural unit and new greenhouses, we are in the throes of developing a horticultural skills academy that will provide high-quality vocational training and bespoke commercial courses.

“We have great links with industry. We work with local landscapers, golf courses, garden centres competing at various shows, work on community projects and have great relationships with local councils, sports clubs, and hospital grounds alongside partnerships with companies such as Thompson and Morgan.”

Most Read

The Horticulture Matters report, from a survey of 200 horticultural businesses, claims that dwindling numbers of people with horticultural skills means the industry cannot meet the growing needs placed on it and that horticulture lacks career appeal.

Mr Davey, who is due to talk to Government representatives and the RHS at the House of Commons today, added: “A huge percentage of our students go on to get jobs within the industry when they leave us.

“For example, 98% of our level three learners at the Easton campus gained employment or started a higher education course last year.

“Collectively as a college we have over 50 years’ experience between us in this subject and we will be continuing to work as hard as ever to support students of all ages and businesses of all sizes to try and address this skills gap.”

The industry believed embedding horticulture across the national curriculum will encourage talented young people to further study the subject in higher education and to consider horticulture as a future career.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter