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Could T-Levels help solve the industry’s skills shortage?

by | 16 Aug 23 | Featured Slider, Features, Long Reads, Website Exclusive

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It’s no secret that the sector is facing a substantial succession crisis thanks to an ongoing skills shortage. Encouraging more young people into the sector is the obvious solution, but it’s not quite as easy as it seems. The latest effort is the introduction of new T-Level courses in Agriculture, Land Management and Production.

Educational organisation City and Guilds (C&G) will be delivering the new T-Levels, with the aim of attracting more to these sectors and tackling hard-to-fill vacancies.

Several prolific organisations within the sector are partnering with C&G to offer industry placements as part of the new two-year technical qualifications, available to 16 – 19-year-olds, including the Landscape Institute (LI), the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), and the British Association of Landscape Industries.

“We hope that the introduction of T-Levels will provide a broad introduction to the horticulture sector and enable more people to consider it as a career option when they leave school,” says Lisa Peter, horticultural engagement manager at the RHS. “The sector is in desperate need of more people, from more diverse groups, bringing their skills to the table.”

The workforce predicament

The LI’s Skills for Greener Places report – an industry-wide assessment of the sector – found that over 50% of businesses in the sector have a hard-to-fill vacancy, together with an above national average workforce. “We need the younger generation to come through,” says John O’Keeffe, head of education and careers at the LI.

Photo by Crystal Jo via Unsplash

Influencer Lee Connelly, who many will know as the ‘Skinny Jean Gardener’, has been going into schools to start engaging children in horticulture at an early age. “As the older generation of horticulturists retire, there is a need to replenish the workforce with fresh talent,” he says. “Encouraging young people to join the sector ensures the continuation of valuable skills and knowledge for the future of gardening and agriculture.”

T-Levels will create additional entry points to the sector, granting an “opportunity for businesses to present themselves as attractive employers, while showcasing careers in the sector to an audience that might not have thought about horticulture in this way,” says the RHS.

The value of young people in green jobs

The landscaping and horticulture industry arguably provides support and fundamental solutions to the rapidly increasing global demand for improved biodiversity and nature recovery in response to the current climate crisis, underlining another reason why it’s necessary to encourage more people into the sector.

Photo by Kenny Eliason via Unsplash

Peter from the RHS says: “At the same time, many young people care deeply about the environment and about climate change, but so far, the sector hasn’t managed to make the connection between horticultural careers and mitigating the effects of climate change clear to a younger audience looking for green jobs.”

Jonathan Pettit, landscape skills and careers manager for the British Association of Landscape Industries adds: “Although career changers are an important part of the new talent that the industry attracts, the more young people with the right skills that we can attract the more businesses that will be able to secure their futures.”

Horticulture has also played a significant part in promoting positive mental wellbeing, which has become increasingly popular since the global pandemic in 2020.

Despite this, horticultural awareness remains reportedly limited, including the diversity of careers available within the sector, potentially hindering students from pursuing the field.

In a recent member survey conducted by the LI, over half (70%) of respondents indicated a need for increased specialty focus, identifying a potential obstacle for career entry.

A wider approach

T-Level courses provide the opportunity for students to gain on-site experience with multiple industry placements developed and provided by multiple recognised organisations and businesses within the sector.

Photo by Jared Muller via Unsplash

They create additional entry opportunities for young people, delivering transferable skill sets and showcasing potential career paths otherwise unrecognised in the modern curriculum.

The RHS will be offering industry placements at its Wisley and Bridgewater gardens, with additional gardens to follow in 2024.

The LI is working with City & Guilds as one of its Employer & Industry Board members, facilitating market level interest from its members about getting involved in the content development, to ensure the T-Level content reflects current employer needs.

The British Association of Landscape Industries is involved in T-Level development as one of the recognised industry bodies on the City & Guilds Employer and Industry Validation Groups.

“I believe that growing an interest in horticulture among young people is crucial for the industry’s future. T-Levels can be a valuable addition to the education landscape, offering a practical and relevant approach to learning that complements existing pathways,” says Connelly.

“As a gardener and educator, I am enthusiastic about supporting and encouraging the next generation of horticulturists to help green the world and create sustainable landscapes for the future.”

By showcasing the breadth of work taking place across the sector on a professional level, it is hoped that more people looking for career opportunities will recognise the value available in a career in horticulture and landscaping.


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