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'Use it or lose it'
(where have all the tradesmen gone?)

Did you know that the number of professionally qualified nurserypersons as defined by the ABS, has decreased from 3000 nationally in 1996 to just over 2000 in 2003 and continues to fall? This is a loss of one third of our tradespersons from the industry in just seven years.

Did you know that over 23% of the nursery/garden centre workforce is aged between 45 to 54 and 18% are between 55 and 64? This will mean that over the next few years we are going to see a large drain of human resource from the industry with fewer numbers entering to take charge of the baton.

Did you know that the nursery industry, both retail and wholesale, was one of the largest users of apprenticeship training in Victoria ten years ago - second only to the job gardening sector. Now nursery is the second lowest compared to all other horticultural trades with only 55 people completing their apprenticeship in 2004?

Together with Primary Skills Victoria (the Industry Training & Advisory Board of Victoria), The Nursery & Garden Industry Victoria (NGIV) recently discussed a 'Nursery Industry Workforce Development Strategy'.

The strategy has a number of platforms including:

  • Promotion of the nursery industry as a career of choice'
  • Up-skilling existing employees'
  • Development of a skilled workforce through increased apprenticeships'.

    It was this last strategy that I had the opportunity to address at a recent meeting of the Tree and Shrub Growers Group.

    Think back to when you started
    I am sure many of you started in the old days - wet behind the ears, and if you reflect back to that time, remember there was always someone - a special person who took time, and shared and showed you not only the skills but the professional attitudes that made you who you are to day.

    This master / apprentice relationship has been with us since Adam was a boy and is still the best way to impart skills, knowledge and attitudes to the next industry generation. It is this time-honoured charter that we would like to help the industry to fulfill through the development of an ongoing training program that would be run each year. This would include a group of apprentices of say 15 to 20 in number annually, who would be under the guidance of the NGIV, but would be mentored and developed by professional nurserypersons. Each apprentice would attend formal training (TAFE) and obtain a breadth of experience in a number of nursery locations. We believe this would result in well developed and well rounded trades people.

    It will also be this group of new professionals, as they develop and mature, that will provide the backbone of the growing nursery industry and the new generation to replace an ageing workforce and provide new visions to meet the changing demands of Governments and society.

    Apprenticeships would be offered each November
    These apprenticeships would be offered each year in November and should be promoted in schools as 'Rotational Nursery Industry Apprenticeships'. As these will be offered at the same time each year, career teachers, councillors and industry personnel themselves will be able to promote and guide prospective candidates on this career pathway. The applicants will undergo interviews and screening and will attend some form of pre-vocational training to allow them and the industry to evaluate their commitment to the industry.

  • Industry mentors and employers will also have a clear apprentice/master responsibility to provide onsite training and experience to allow full development of the candidate. These people will form the future of the industry and should not be abused or exploited. These are your future managers and advocates to inspire future generations to come.

    Will they achieve the standard the industry wants?
    Yes I can hear some of you say that the training system hasn't been able to turn out apprentices to the standard the industry wants and yes, I am quite sure some of you have had bad experiences with apprentices and the system. However, this is your opportunity to direct and control a program that will be designed and owned by you and the NGIV. It is your chance to give someone else a start and your industry a future.

    Your industry last year looked at the structure of the apprenticeship system and noted that standards had dropped. As a result, the old four year trades-based apprenticeship has been restored, including that all-important final year of practice and honing of skills before getting papers. This system still retains the $4,400 to $6,000 grants for employing an apprentice and other Workcare offsets, but gives the final sign-off back to the employer. Marry this with the 'Rotational Nursery Industry Apprenticeships' and I believe your industry has the best outcomes possible.

    If you don't use it you'll lose it!
    The training system is no different if the nursery industry does not engage in taking on apprentices. The funding allocated for training delivery will be transferred to other industries that are seen as higher priority. Once lost it would be very hard indeed to ever get them back.

    We need nurseries and nursery men and women who are willing to employ and take responsibility, to mentor this new generation. If you would like to become involved in this initiative please contact Natalie Marwood on (03) 9576 0599 at the NGIV or Greg Hallihan on (03) 92109470 at Primary Skills Victoria (PSV).

    Ideas for increasing Plant Sales

  • Create a Plant-of-the-week promotion.

  • Promote larger-size plants earlier in the season. Start spring with your biggest and best selection.

  • To get customers to buy shrubs on impulse, merchandise and sign in groups according to how people use them.

  • Every hot spot should have a sign explaining why these plants are special.

  • Promote container gardening; consider regular workshops, a potting station and some stunning examples

  • Every aisle should be wide enough for customers to negotiate with a laden trolley

  • When it is really busy allocate one or more employees to sales only.

    Eve Tigwell. UK.

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