Developing industry skills: A strategic imperative

By Gabrielle Stannus

To better develop industry skills, Greenlife Industry Australia must make the most of 1) the Federal Government’s recent announcement that it will reform the higher education sector, 2) a national project that is being carried out by an Industry Reference Committee, supported by Skills Impact, to review the horticultural and nursery training offerings in the VET sector and 3) in delivering a project with RM Consulting Group on industry training and development requirements and mapping career pathways.

Over the next four years, Greenlife Industry Australia aims to promote horticulture, especially greenlife and nursery production, as a career of choice. To do this, the industry must work with Federal programs and higher education sectors to ensure qualifications meet industry needs, as flagged in its Strategic Plan 2020-20231. Recent announcements by the Federal Government and proposed changes in the vocational education and training (VET) sector provide Greenlife Industry Australia with the opportunity to advocate on behalf of members and the industry to make this happen.

Higher education opportunities
The Federal Government announced in June that it would create an additional 39,000 university places by 2023 to meet the expected increase in demand for higher learning, given job losses associated with COVID-192. This was followed by an announcement in July for funding for an additional 340,000 VET places across the nation. The number of places potentially designated for horticultural training and education within those figures is not clear at this stage.

The Government said that it will incentivise students to make more job-relevant choices, that lead to more job-ready graduates, by reducing the student contribution in areas of expected employment growth and demand. For example, students will pay 62 per cent less to study agriculture. The Government will also provide $900 million for a National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund to incentivise universities to produce job-ready graduates that local industries and employers need.

Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Michaela Cash said the new package would complement the Government’s reforms in vocational education and training. “We are working to deliver reforms that will give Australians the power to mix and match their qualifications across VET and higher education to suit their needs,” Senator Cash said.

This may be an opportune time for the greenlife industry to once again remind the Federal Government that a very important part of production horticulture, and hence agriculture, happens pre-farm gate. The greenlife industry is an important contributor to the National Farmers Federation goal of creating an Australian agriculture industry worth $100 billion by 2030. To help achieve this goal, we need suitably qualified horticulturists trained for higher levels of management and technical specifications. However, there are limited higher education horticultural offerings in this country. Those that are available generally fit within broader agricultural or science degrees. The reforms proposed by Senator Cash may provide the greenlife industry with an opportunity to advocate for relevant courses within the university sector. This may potentially help members of the greenlife industry attract and retain talent.

Proposed changes to VET offerings - Horticulture and Nursery Project
The Amenity Horticulture, Landscaping, Conservation and Land Management Industry Reference Committee’s review of horticultural and nursery skills standards in the VET sector is in the final stages. Over the past 12 months, industry across Australia have provided comment on revised and improved qualifications and units. Greenlife Industry Australia CEO Peter Vaughan is a member of the Industry Reference Committee (IRC) overseeing this review, which is being supported by Skills Impact.

The Horticulture and Nursery Project was initiated to review qualifications and units across production horticulture, nursery production and retail nursery.

“In Nursery Production and Production Horticulture, skills cover the whole value chain, from the propagation and growing of plants; to production horticulture businesses, growing and harvesting fruits, vegetables or nuts; and to retail nurseries selling plants to the public,” says Michelle Ingley-Smith, Skills Impact Industry Engagement Manager, “The skills and knowledge required to work within these areas are often transferable. Given their close relation, many of the challenges and opportunities facing these sectors are similar or related.”

“Robotics are increasingly used for watering and picking crops; drones are being utilised to identify disease; and forecasting crop yield potential is coming along in leaps and bounds and processing a wide range of data becomes easier,” Michelle continues, “Such developments require higher levels of digital skills to enable workers and managers to engage with equipment, software and data.”

“Subject Matter Expert groups agreed to the amalgamation of current qualifications into a more streamlined approach. Within the newly coded and named qualifications, the individual can ‘specialise’ by choosing a group of electives from ‘specialising banks’. This means that individuals involved in floriculture as an example, can enrol in a Certificate III in Production Horticulture (Floriculture) if they chose electives from the Floriculture bank,” explains Michelle.

“The expectation is these changes will encourage more uptake of these qualifications as they have better transferability between jobs,” Michelle concludes.

Table 1. Horticulture and Nursery Project - Summary of proposed new or revised qualifications

Current qualifications Proposed new or revised qualifications
AHC20316 Certificate II in Production Horticulture
AHC21516 Certificate II in Floriculture

AHC20320 Certificate II in Production Horticulture
AHC20716 Certificate II in Production Nursery
AHC20816 Certificate II in Retail Nursery

AHC20720 Certificate II in Nursery Operations
AHC30616 Certificate III in Production Horticulture
AHC33216 Certificate III in Floriculture

AHC30620 Certificate III in Production Horticulture
AHC31116 Certificate III in Production Nursery
AHC31216 Certificate III in Retail Nursery

AHC31120 Certificate III in Nursery Operations
AHC40316 Certificate IV in Production Horticulture

AHC40320 Certificate IV in Production Horticulture

AHC40616 Certificate IV in Production Nursery
AHC40716 Certificate IV in Retail Nursery

AHC40620 Certificate IV in Nursery Operations
AHC50316 Diploma of Production Horticulture

AHC50320 Diploma of Production Horticulture
AHC50816 Diploma of Production Nursery Management

AHC50820 Diploma of Nursery Management
AHC50916 Diploma of Retail Nursery Management

Proposed for deletion due to no enrolments

The proposed changes to VET offerings provide clear benefits to members of the greenlife industry. However, it is uncertain whether the impacts of these changes will be felt equally across the country. Will registered training providers (RTOs) deliver the training? There are a host of factors affecting RTOs and their decision as to whether to deliver training or not, but low student numbers, skills requiring access to expensive materials and machinery and learners spread across large geographical areas are some of the key challenges. How would this impact rural or regional nurseries? Qualifications were streamlined to reflect current job roles, and the Diploma of Retail Nursery Management has been proposed for deletion by the Subject Matter Expert Groups due to is low current usage. What do retail nurseries think about losing access to this qualification?

Partnership with RM Consulting
To bring all this together, Greenlife Industry Australia in partnership with RM Consulting Group, is conducting a project to:

Assess training support to help the targeted design and delivery of training programs that enable the upskilling of the nursery industry at several levels; and

Define jobs and career pathways to demonstrate dynamic career opportunities within the nursery sector to those in horticulture and other relevant sectors.

The outputs from the project will be communicated widely to the industry.

Your say
If you have any feedback or concerns about the proposed changes to VET skills standards and training that you would like Greenlife Industry Australia to take up on your behalf, please contact the GIA office on (02) 8861 5100 or email

1. Greenlife Industry Australia 2020, Strategic Plan 2020-2023
2. Tehan, D (Minister for Education, Australia) & Cash, M (Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) 2020, Job-ready graduates to power economic recovery, joint media release, 19 June, viewed 19 July 2020,
Further reading
For more information about the challenges facing the VET sector, visit the Skills Impact website: