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World Skills – Could you be our landscaping winner?

With the New Year now upon us, many of you would have made resolutions and are ready for a new challenge. The Association of Professional Landscapers is the new organising partner for the Landscape Gardening competition for World Skills 2014.

The competition is part of a set of over 70 UK wide skills competitions ranging from landscape gardening to engineering, electronics to the arts; all of which are designed by industry experts and targeted at apprentices, college and university students, trainees and employees.

This is a huge opportunity for any students or apprentices to really show the world all they can achieve. The heats this year will be taking place at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park and gives competitors the chance to build a small garden which will hopefully take them on to the next stage…the WorldSkills UK final at the Birmingham NEC in November 2014.

The doors that can open from being named “WorldSkills Winner” in any section can rocket a Student to higher levels in a monumental way.  Dan Handley from Sparsholt College was the UK Gold medal winner for Landscape Gardening in WorldSkills 2013 and has seen a monumental change in his fortunes since winning the competition.

Originally from Devon, Dan, 20, originally trained as a chef before venturing into the horticultural industry. He got his first taste of planting and landscaping whilst working at “The Husbandry School” during his studies.  This was unique business where people lived self-sufficiently whilst, teaching land based courses such as stone walling and willow weaving whilst growing such produce and farming sheep, pigs and goats for meat.

Dan said: “Whilst working there I fell in love with working outdoors.  I loved the farming side of the job as well as the growing side, looking after the land, and general ground maintenance I used to do. When I finished my chef training, I luckily saw what I really wanted to do and started working at the husbandry school full time.

“I learnt an amazing amount about growing and caring for edible crops and cut flowers, livestock handling, looking after the land and how to use it to get the most out of it. Working there not only changed my views on how important land is and how it should be cared for but it also gave me a passion for anything that grows in the ground”.

Dan originally joined Sparsholt College to do fishery studies which had been his main love. Six months on, he had found that he had completely fallen in love with plants and had also picked up a couple of gardening jobs to earn extra money at weekends.  Having talked to various people in the horticultural industry, he switched his course to the Level 3 Extended Diploma in Horticulture at Sparsholt.

The Competition

Dan’s college course saw him learn landscaping skills such as decking, fencing, paving and wall building. Landscaping had always been something that Dan had been interested in and seeing his potential, tutor Matt Jessop entered him into the WorldSkillsUK 2013 competition.

The first heat was held at Askham Bryan College in York.  Over the three days, the competitors had to perform skills such as marking out, paving, timber work and planting.

Dan said: “I am a very competitive person who always works hard at any task so really did put my all in to completing the tasks that were set to the highest ability I could in the time space given. I particularly enjoyed the planting exercises and learning about show planting which I had never done before.

“At the end of the three days, the results were announced with the top ten going through to the semi-final at Tatton. I didn’t expect to be put through so was extremely happy when I was announced as third place.”

The semi-final at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park took place at the end of July.  “The experience at Tatton was amazing and one I will always remember. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to help build the competition garden for thousands of people to be able to see. With the prestige of the show, the pressure was really on,” Dan said.

The garden was split into ten parts, one for each competitor. Although individually judged, the parts had to join up and create the whole garden together in unity. Each competitor had to complete a section of block and slab paving, part of a fence and part of a stream running the whole length.  They also had to plant a tree and create their own planting scheme from the selection of plants given, and build a timber decking bridge.

Dan said of the experience; “Working at Tatton was extremely hard work physically and mentally. My approach was to just do my best again and work as fast and as hard as possible putting 100% in to everything. Attention to detail was needed with the hard landscaping having a tolerance of just 2mm. The overall whole build went well with everyone working together when needed.”

During each round the competitors are judged constantly on health and safety, team work and attitude as well as the finished work overall. From Tatton the top six, including Dan were put through to the final which would take place at The Skills Show at the Birmingham NEC.

The Final

The final consisted of the competitors being put together in pairs and were given just 18 hours to build a garden from the designs we were given.

“It was an intense build and physically exhausting.” Dan said.  “We had to lay slabs, cobble sets, build a walled raised bed, lay turf, make two timber screens, construct and get a water feature working plus plant up three beds of plants. Being at the NEC there were thousands of people walking around however when you’re working you don’t even notice them watching you work, the time seemed to go extremely quickly, me and my partner only just managed to finish the build with four minutes to spare.

“The whole experience was amazing and being part of the opening ceremony was really good fun. And the closing ceremony was brilliant with excellent entertainment. When my name was announced for gold at the ceremony I was overjoyed and so excited, I really couldn’t believe I had won.”

Dan concluded; “I would recommend anyone to enter in to WorldSkillsUK, no matter what your ability or age, you’ll learn loads of skills and have a great time.  I’ve met some amazing people along the way and have made some new friends.

“My advice for anyone entering is just to enjoy it and do your best.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Since the competition I’ve been offered jobs that I would have never been considered for.  It really does show how employable you are, it’s truly changed my life and I can wait for the next step competing in the international final in Brazil in 2015.”

So what are you waiting for, have you got what it takes to be the best?

The entry portal opens on 10 February and closes on 21 March. For more information on entering the Landscape Gardening competition, please visit



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