Building skills in horticulture

By David Thompson –

Search the web for advice about getting jobs in any industry and you’ll find yourself inundated with generic, broad advice that can be hard to apply to your own situation. So many tips, so much advice – where do you ever start?

For those who have found a way into horticulture, they’ll tell you about the friendly and collegial nature of the industry, with people who are passionate about life, nature, plants and making more beautiful spaces.

The basics

It’s worth starting by considering the nature of horticulture and the ways that horticultural businesses make money, this will help you understand where the opportunities are to end up providing a service, either as an employee or as a business owner yourself.

Horticulture is about growing quality plants that someone will pay for, whether it is for landscapes, food, amenity or cut flowers. It is only when someone pays for the product or service, that the business is able to operate and potentially pay its owners and staff.

Next steps

Horticultural employers will always value broad and fundamental plant knowledge. One of the best tips for horticulturists is to practice getting to know both Latin and common names for as many plants as possible. Every time you see a plant, look up its names, both official (Latin) and common.

It is common to take Certificate, Diploma or Degree courses in horticulture, as these give you a rounded understanding of horticultural fundamentals as well as a credential that demonstrates a certain level of achievement.

However, there are many other ways to gain knowledge and apply learning through short courses or specific online courses along with practical experience.

Networking and connection

Most advice on the web tends to focus on creating a standout resume, and certainly this is important in securing a position. However, many jobs are filled through word of mouth, and the benefit of this approach is that it is more likely that your future employer can see you for the person you are, rather than a resume in a stack of applications.

This is why membership to industry associations is important, because those personal connections can help you see what other professional horticulturists look like and how they approach their craft.

As for the skills you seek

Lastly, a tip that many professionals still don’t think about enough – if you have an idea or a suggestion, find a way to put it forward. You might have great ideas that could improve the customer experience, or save money, or capture some type of leading-edge innovation you’ve seen that could improve the business and its services or products. Equally, you might want to develop your skills in a new area that could help you to grow your career within the horticultural business or the industry.

Our advice for putting forward a successful proposal includes:

  • Outline the opportunity or challenge, clearly stating how addressing the issue would solve a problem or create an opportunity
  • Relate the idea back to the business specifically – how would addressing the issue enhance the business you are in and improve the business?
  • Detail the costs required to make it happen – this includes financial costs and also any requirements for time, especially if you need to conduct training offsite that may impact on your daily work
  • Thank your employer or decision-maker for considering the idea and explain the next steps required to make it happen (e.g. registration or bookings, etc.)

Most employers want to run better businesses but being busy they may not always have time or resources to address every idea immediately. By putting it in writing, you can provide all the detail needed to make a decision, and help your decision-maker understand what it is a priority.

Final words

Building skills in horticulture means taking a growth-minded approach to learning throughout your whole career. Like all industries, horticulture is always changing as new trends and new ideas come to the marketplace with different inspiration and awareness of landscape and plant trends, design choices and new methods always emerging.

That is what makes horticulture so rewarding!

David first published this article in the AIH HortInsights magazine

David Thompson MAIH

Engagement Manager

Australian Institute of Horticulture

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