How to sustain recent growth in horticulture course enrolments
By Gabrielle Stannus
Interest in horticulture courses has grown across the vocational education and training (VET) and higher education sectors over the last twelve months, with one industry source saying they have had to halt online enrolments until they can recruit more teachers. However, more work is required to sustain this interest and to ensure that these new recruits complete their study and stay in the industry.
Matt Rawlinson says that numbers of enrolments in AHC31116 Certificate III in Production Nursery are up 300% from June last year at Landscape Skills, a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) based in south-east Queensland. More than 50 per cent of these apprentices are aged over 30, with only 21 per cent aged under 25 years.
Colin Hunt from TAFE NSW says they have also experienced high demand for Certificates II and III in Horticulture this year, and strong demand for nursery, parks and gardens, and landscaping. “Interest is coming from people looking to gain employment or as a job requirement, to pursue their interest in horticulture, or for a career change which allows them to follow their interests,” says Colin, “We are seeing strong interest from a variety of age groups and seeing more mature aged students particularly for the Certificate III in Horticulture. Anecdotally, we are hearing that many people reconnected with nature and their gardens during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these people sparked their interest in horticulture as a career option during this time.
Both Matt and Colin say this increase in enrolment is also due partly to the Federal Government’s Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy. Eligible businesses that engage an Australian Apprentice between 5 October 2020 and 30 September 2021 may be eligible for a subsidy of 50 per cent of wages paid to a new or recommencing apprentice or trainee for a 12-month period from the date of commencement to a maximum of $7,000 per quarter.
John Rayner, Director of Urban Horticulture with the University of Melbourne’s School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, says all higher education horticulture-related programs have experienced increased student admissions over the last two years. The Master of Urban Horticulture has grown by 20-30%, whilst the arboriculture and garden design graduate certificates have also increased by between 10-20%.
Having completed his apprenticeship through Landscape Skills last year, James takes new apprentice Samantha on a propagation house inspection Image: Landscape Skills
Mandemar resident Julieann McDonald is a recent Diploma of Horticulture graduate from TAFE NSW Goulburn. Image: TAFE NSW
Where to from here?
Increased enrolments may help the greenlife industry to meet its target of 90% (78% currently) of greenlife businesses employing qualified horticulturists by (insert date)1. However, the greenlife professionals interviewed here say more work is required to sustain this interest and to ensure that these new recruits complete their study and stay in the industry.
Use champions to promote greenlife careers
“Green infrastructure does capture people's attention,” says John, “When you do a show on Gardening Australia, or a talk or appear in print, there is always a flurry of interest in our courses.” Colin says that TAFE NSW alumni actively promote greenlife careers through their involvement in the entertainment industry, including shows such as Gardening Australia, The Block and Backyard Blitz, with the most notable example being Jamie Durie. These shows do a lot to promote the industry, and their stars could be recruited to act as champions for greenlife careers.
Promote school-based apprenticeships
Matt recommends closer consideration and promotion of school-based apprenticeships to encourage early bloomers to enter the industry. An Australian School-based Apprenticeship provides students with hands-on industry experience and the ability to work towards or complete a nationally recognised qualification while undertaking their secondary school certificate.
Support online learning
Matt says that the VET horticulture cohort contains a higher percentage of students with literacy and numeracy issues compared with other industries. He believes that online learning provides an excellent opportunity for students with learning difficulties to undertake study during work time or in the privacy of their own homes.
Bridge the gap between VET and higher education
“There is still a gap in the education marketplace around degree level horticulture programs. When we had articulated programs from TAFE into Degree and Masters’ courses, we did see a number of industry people transition,” says John, “However, over the last ten to twenty years, we are now finding that it is mostly people seeking a career change.” John would like to see business and research-based institutions partner to drive industry innovation and to overcome this gap. An increase in the number of Commonwealth Supported Places may make it more financially attractive to those greenlife professionals seeking to make this transition.
Increase professional development opportunities
John says his school is regularly approached by business to deliver continuing professional development (CPD) programs, such as its Urban Forests Masterclass this November. However, they cannot always meet the demand and are seeking industry partnerships to do so.
Matt says that professional development opportunities also need to be afforded to those people training students in the VET sector: “Their supervisor is the most important person for an apprentice or trainee. These people need support too.”
Master of Urban Horticulture students from the University of Melbourne visiting Kevin Heinz GROW Image: University of Melbourne
Recognise the importance of urban horticulture
With the United Nations predicting that 68% of the world population will live in urban areas by 20502, John argues that the industry needs greenlife professionals to focus on the unique challenges and problems that cities possess. “If we can get more green spaces in urban areas that are more meaningful to people, then more people will become engaged with vegetation and plants. When you have got this bigger pool of people pushing through, you will get better opportunities for education and training,” says John.
PS. Greenlife Careers Hub launching soon!
Greenlife Industry Australia will be launching the Greenlife Careers Hub this June. This online hub will include information on greenlife careers and learning pathways, industry Professional Development opportunities and a greenlife careers job board.
Greenlife Industry Australia 2020, Greenlife Industry Australia Strategic Plan 2020-2023, February 2020