Taking place between the 5 and 11 February 2024, National Apprenticeship Week highlights the popular alternative to joining the world of work. We teamed up with Merrist Wood College, the 400-acre, multi-award-winning college that specialises in the land-based industries, to find out more.
Name: Holly Smith
Course/apprenticeship: Horticultural Operative
- How did you first come into the industry?
I started looking for a job in horticulture or agriculture on Indeed as I knew I wanted an outdoor job, having been in the scouting industry at a young age. As university wasn’t something I was keen on, I started looking into apprenticeships. I applied for lots of different apprenticeships within the industry until I got offered an interview with the University of Surrey.
- Can you tell us a bit about your apprenticeship?
Working with the University of Surrey, starting on the 26 September 2022, I specialise in maintenance of herbaceous perennials on site as well as general grounds keeping (the main focus on horticultural practices). This extends to sports maintenance and looking after the different pitches.
- How big is the company?
It is a global community of more than 16,000 students from 140 countries. The team (split across two sites) is made up of 15 members, including team leaders and management. We look after a large university site rather than take on work externally.
- What services do you they offer?
They funded all of my training for multiple NPTC and LANTRA courses as well as providing lots of opportunities for me to practice my skills at work, with a wide range of different jobs in specialised areas available – an example being working with a colleague who specialises in herbaceous perennials as opposed to a colleague who specialises in sports maintenance.
- Why choose an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is a good alternative to those who learn better hands on, and with a more practical approach to learning.
- What is your weekly schedule like?
I work four out of the five working days in the week and go to Merrist Wood College for one of them. Since I’m split between two university sites in Guildford, I have a 50/50 balance; Monday and Tuesday will be at Stag Hill, Wednesday and Friday will be at Manor Park with Thursday being a day for college. I do most of my learning on a Thursday, which is the day for college, but my learning also extends into the workplace.
- What has been your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement working in the industry would be my ability to properly identify the Latin name for a wide range of plants on site when asked, and to also be knowledgeable on how they need to be maintained.
- What are your plans for the future?
I would possibly like to go into some sort of garden design, or maybe even become self-employed in the industry to an extent, maybe starting my own company. After my current employment I may also be interested in working in one of the many RHS gardens and hone my skills there.
- If you had any words of wisdom for the future generations joining the industry, what would they be?
If you’re thinking of working in horticulture, make sure you don’t mind working in all weathers.
“National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) is an opportunity for the education and skills sector to celebrate the achievements of apprentices around the country and the positive impact they make to communities, businesses, and the wider economy.”
According to the government, an apprenticeship is a paid job where the employee learns and gains valuable experiences. Combining on-site training with classroom based learning, apprenticeships spend on average 20% of their time in a college or university environment, allowing for up to 80% of their time to be used for hands-on, paid experience. Leading to a nationally recognised qualification, apprenticeships continue to grow in popularity.
We teamed up with Merrist Wood College, the 400-acre, multi-award-winning college that specialises in the land-based industries, to find out more.
“Get the best of both worlds: the ability to earn while you learn.” – Merrist Wood College
When becoming an apprentice, you’ll be working for a company – receiving wages, holiday pay, and statutory sick pay, whilst also training or studying for a formal qualification. Merrist Wood College work alongside businesses that provide genuine jobs where apprentices are treated and respected like any other employee. They typically work a minimum of 30 hours a week on a contract that lasts at least 12 months. Programmes usually last for between one to two years and offer a direct route into employment. “Employers are keen to hire people who can hit the ground running,” says Merrist Wood College.
“Apprenticeships aren’t just for school leavers: nearly a third of our current apprentices are over the age of 19. So, whatever your age, get in touch to kickstart your career!” – Merrist Wood College