The UK’s Young People in Horticulture Association (YPHA) was founded in January 2020 to “unite the scatterings” of under 35s working in the sector. One of its main aims when it was founded by a group of young horticulturalists* was to consider how the sector might evolve to appeal to a younger demographic.
To that end, the YPHA this spring submitted a detailed written report as evidence for the UK’s House of Lords Horticulture Sector Committee. The committee is leading an inquiry that’s examining the challenges, opportunities, and risks faced by the UK horticulture sector. The conclusion of this inquiry, due to wrap up later this year (2023), could lead to recommendations being made to government.
One of the major themes identified in the YPHA committee’s report (based on 55 responses) – and a theme that YPHA members are “very united” on – is the fact that horticulture should be incorporated into the UK’s national curriculum for schools to raise awareness of horticulture as a potential career.
The report states: “This awareness is universally seen as important with almost every member having experienced the false perception that ‘gardening is often seen as an option for a child who is struggling academically.’” This, it said, is despite the importance of skills required in horticulture such as languages (learning Latin names of plants), maths (budgeting, measuring, accounts), geology (aspects, soil science) and (other types of) science (biology, ecology, and the environment).
One of the respondents stated that: “Young people aren't always aware of it and schools don't really promote the industry as a choice to young people...”
Respondents also noted that there are, in fact, plenty of opportunities to link horticulture to various subjects such as biology, food technology, physical education, maths, and geography.
Another key theme in the report was the sector’s low wages, with 48% of the responses directly referencing low wages and many respondents highlighting how low wages are “actually a barrier to entry for young people.”
Speaking to GreenTech, YPHA committee member Kyle Ross – production manager for Wyevale Nurseries in Hereford, explains that people tend to retire later in horticulture. “So, in a lot of these businesses you cannot progress unless somebody retires. You know, that can be a big obstacle. But it just depends on where you work – it really does.”
Ross does, however, emphasise what a great career horticulture can be. “I love my job –every day is different. You will learn something new every day. And it does appear to be the case that, within horticulture, there’s always a big issue to tackle – be it plant health, peat, etc.”
He adds that he’s recently seen some positive changes in the industry: “Certainly in the last five years there’s been a huge increase in apprentices in horticulture. I mean, at Wyevale we've got a fantastic apprenticeship scheme that's been very successful. And we've got six former apprentices who are now in more senior roles within the company.”
Ross observes an increase in apprentices aged between 16 and 18 in particular. “Coming into horticulture after the pandemic, a lot of them have clearly had a lot of time at home. So, they'd been spending time in the garden with their parents or grandparents or maybe doing it by themselves. And I do think that's made a real impact, because we're noticing a lot more younger apprentices wanting to get into the industry.”
Moreover, the YPHA – whose key sponsors include the Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) – is currently working on a project which, in the near future, will see it proactively meeting up with schools to help promote the varied career options within the horticulture sector.
Ross says: “People need to understand that horticulture isn't just being a gardener on your hands and knees sort of thing. Horticulture is one of the oldest industries in the world and one of the highest for job satisfaction. It's also a global industry. You can go anywhere in the world and do horticulture anywhere.”
Learning, sharing, collaborating
YPHA committee members are also busily taking part in talks at trade shows – with “getting youth into the industry” frequently being a topic of discussion at these events. “Trade shows are also a good chance for our existing members to come and meet the YPHA committee members in person,” says Ross, “because a lot of them would have never met us before. And we also pick up a lot of new members immediately after trade shows.”
Meanwhile, YPHA – which already boasts some 600 members – is continuing to learn, share, and collaborate. Its members are supporting one another and preparing the horticulture sector for the future. Ross organises, for instance, monthly seminars featuring guest speakers. “It could be about businesses that they've launched, or an award-winning garden design that they've created, or more technical topics such about robotics and fruit harvesting. And we have a big Whatsapp group with all the members in it. And the questions that go on there every day will be answered by another member. And it's just fantastic. It's just such a good network.”
*YPHA was founded by Mollie Higginson (New Leaf Plants), Natalie Porter (Happy Plants) and Liam Cleary (Old Railway Line Garden Centre).