The skills gap in the horticultural industry

Guest blogger and well-known industry consultant Neville Stein considers the skills gap in the horticultural industry

3 mins
Neville Stein
Horticultural Business Consultant

The UK is experiencing one of the lowest unemployment rates since 1974 which has led to a massive lack of individuals with the required skills in the horticultural industry. This skills shortage coupled with a skills gap – deficiencies in an employer’s workforce – means that market opportunities cannot be fully capitalised upon resulting, typically in a reduction in output. Reducing the skills gap in your workforce will impact upon your productivity. Better trained workers means that work is carried out more efficiently (doing the job right) and effectively (doing the right job) and it has been shown that investing in training will reduce staff turnover. So, if you are struggling to recruit why not take a look at your existing work force and consider how you can develop them?


Developing your employees begins with understanding that each employee is different. Using appraisals or performance reviews will help you identify an individual’s career ambitions whilst also firming up their development needs in relation to their job description or role profile – that therefore means that they have to be fully conversant with their job description.


In addition to using appraisals and the job description to identify development needs other techniques can be useful. A competency framework for example sets out and defines the knowledge, skills and qualities that employees need to have if they are to perform successfully, whilst others use Peter Drucker’s principle of management by objectives. The 5 step process, developed by Drucker in 1954 can be very effective as a tool for identifying development needs. Essentially what you need to do is to be clear about the current and future requirements of a role and identify the actual current performance. This gives you a ‘performance gap’ and then you can begin to develop an individual development plan.


When considering employee development most bosses tend to think that traditional workshop style training is sufficient. True, this has its place and can be very effective but is just one of the many tools now available. Typically, many forward thinking companies are providing employees with workplace mentoring or coaching. In its simplest from mentoring is about two people coming together with a view to helping one of them progress more easily through work, whilst coaching is more formal and involves a structured approach. Both have their place in the modern world.


Developing your employees is likely to involve a wide range of activities and it’s important to understand that they don’t just involve formal training or studying for qualifications. Membership of a professional body or trade organisation such as the Chartered Institute of Horticulturists or The Young Persons Horticulture Association can provide a myriad of opportunities to learn more, enhance skills and become a more rounded employee. Enabling your employees to sit on committees will certainly benefit them and you.


As an employer there is much that you can do to informally develop your employees. Create opportunities for them to be given the lead responsibility for a project or ask them to handle a difficult or unusual case or situation. You might even consider seconding them to another role or asking them to deputise for their line manager. These are big opportunities and will certainly stretch someone. There are countless small opportunities that occur during the working week that can be used to develop employees. Asking someone to organise a training event, write a report, run a meeting or inducting new starters all provide opportunities to learn new skills.


Developing your workforce will pay dividends in the long run and should be a major focus for all leaders and managers. When teaching management students I often challenge them with the question – how do you know when you have become a good manager? Typically my answer to them will be – when you can step away from your job knowing that the organisation will function efficiently and effectively without you – in essence that means that you developed your staff so that they are perfectly capable of handling everything you do. Perhaps then you key role is that of developing your staff. After all Richard Branson is quoted as saying “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”