Survey seeks to understand skills gap in ornamental industry

Thursday, 25 April 2019

A survey investigating what skills the UK’s £24.2 billion ornamental sector will need in the future is being carried out, to provide insight into potential training and resource gaps.

Results from the survey will help inform a skills strategy tailored to the industry and provide data to support funding and resource decisions.

According to a report by Oxford Economics, the UK ornamental industry supported 568,700 jobs in 2017, amounting to 1.6 percent of total UK employment.  

The survey, which is co-funded by AHDB Horticulture, Royal Horticultural Society, Arboriculture Association, British Association of Landscape Industries, Chartered institute of Horticulture and Land Based Colleges Aspiring to Excellence following a need identified by the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group, will see 1,000 ornamental businesses contacted.

Nathalie Key, knowledge exchange manager at AHDB, said: This is a crucial opportunity to gain more detailed insight into the current characteristics of the labour force in the ornamentals industry. It will help to ascertain the skills gaps that need to be addressed in the future and provide the data needed to secure the funding to make those changes happen.”

With the increase in technological innovation within horticultural production, the survey will also consider the impact of automation on the skills requirements of the workforce.

Speaking at our SmartHort conference in March this year about the future of horticultural production, Simon Pearson, director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology (LIAT) at the University of Lincoln said: “We need a step change on training. We have to upskill growers and think about how they will be using technology; they’ve got to be able to understand it and fix problems with the technology themselves.”

Labour shortages are a critical issue for many horticultural producers, with the NFU stating shortfalls of up to 30 per cent in the availability of labour. The pilot seasonal agricultural worker scheme announced by the Government to allow 2,500 workers in 2019 does not apply to the ornamental sector.

Steve Reed, Production Director at Wyevale Nurseries, said: “It’s hard to find people with technical horticultural skills. Our nursery is located in an area with low unemployment and the work is seen as unskilled with no prospects, but growing plants is an incredibly satisfying and rewarding occupation.

“Leadership skills will have greater importance in the future of our workforce, to be able to lead seasonal workers and agency teams as the number of core staff reduce. Computer literacy will also only become more important.”

The skills survey is being conducted via phone by Pye Tait Consulting between April and June. An online survey is also available to complete here: pyetait.com/OHRG-Skills-Survey. If you would like further information or wish to participate in additional focus groups, please contact Michael Oberreuter on 01423 509433 or m.oberreuter@pyetait.com.

More information and resources to help horticultural businesses offset the challenge of access to labour can be found at ahdb.org.uk/smarthort.

Hand rogueing tulips. Norfolk, April. (c) Gary Naylor Photography