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Seeds of Success: An apprentice’s insight to a blooming path in horticulture – Will Smith

by | 06 Feb 24 | Long Reads, News

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: Will Smith

Industry: Horticulture

Course/apprenticeship: Horticulture Operative Apprenticeship

  • How did you first come into the industry?

I knew I liked working outdoors and with nature and then my cousin recommended me to join her place of work and I found a role as a grounds/garden operative available. I applied and got the job.

  • Can you tell us a bit about your apprenticeship?

I work for ACS International School, Cobham campus. I started in September 2022, so recently surpassed a year.

  • What do you do?

I started as a garden operative, doing maintenance on site, looking after plant beds, making the site generally presentable but have now transferred more towards the ‘grounds’ side of things, working mostly on the sports pitch maintenance. I have also become a football coach at the school, utilising a previous coaching qualification I already had. The organisation as a whole is quite big, with four different schools under the ACS umbrella, including one abroad, in Qatar. There’s approximately over 300 staff members and 1300 students at the school. We don’t take on external work; the work is all internal, onsite.

  • What is involved in your job role?

Marking out sports pitches, using heavy PTO machinery, cutting grass, setting up pitches and maintaining our golf course are the main roles.

  • Why choose an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are a great way of learning while on the job. Going into the classroom once a week supplements the learning we’ve done on the job. It provides us with a supportive environment where our teacher, employer and progress coach are always there for us to guide us along the way. We’re also very lucky to have a great teacher at Merrist Wood College, Helen Finch, who makes learning enjoyable.

  • What is your weekly schedule like? 

My weekly schedule consists of four days a week at work – 7am-3pm – with afterschool sports coaching on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Under 12 boy’s football and one day a week at college, every Thursday.

  • What are the biggest challenges that you’re experiencing at the moment?

Apprenticeship wages! It’s minimum wage but I look forward to earning more.

  • What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Chessington Sports Yellows Under 16 Managers’ Player of the Season

  • What are your plans for the future?

To finally qualify and then see what happens. In the near future I would like to travel and work in horticulture, but somewhere with warmer weather.

  • If you had any words of wisdom for the future generations joining the industry, what would they be?

This can be a rewarding career – although not financially at the start. Being out in nature beats staring at a computer screen every day.

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

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