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Tackling the skills shortage in our industry is critical if it is to continue to thrive

Notice from editor: An error was made in the April 2017 print edition, where the wrong image was included next to Wayne Grills’ author bio on the Contributors page. We apologise for this error.

I would first like to echo the sentiments of February’s contributor to The Last Word, Merrick Denton-Thompson, and welcome Landscape Insight to our wonderful industry.

There is certainly room for a publication that re-energises the debate on the many issues facing us on a daily basis and Merrick’s ‘Last Word’ highlighted a number of these in his piece.

BALI members up and down the country are responsible for creating and maintaining our cherished ‘managed’ landscapes, from private gardens and city green spaces to the grounds of business parks, hospitals and schools. Companies operating in the sector are required to deliver an increasingly broad service, which requires their employees hold a correspondingly broad skill set.

It is no secret, however, that the landscape industry is operating in the midst of a chronic skills shortage. Notwithstanding the threats to our parks and green spaces highlighted in the Parks Inquiry report released back in February, a lack of young people and skilled workers coming into the industry is a threat of major proportions.

The government’s employer-led Trailblazer Apprenticeships will undoubtedly go some way to encouraging more young people and their parents to consider landscaping as a career option – but contractors need people now. I am pleased to say that BALI and other industry organisations have come out fighting.

The RHS’s Green Plan It Challenge is already working in primary and secondary schools to introduce horticulture as part of a student-led and curriculum-based outreach programme. In November, BALI launched its GoLandscape initiative. This combines an inspiring website (www.golandscape.co.uk), containing everything you need to know about careers in landscaping, with its own outreach programme where BALI member volunteers visit schools, colleges and resettlement organisations to talk of their first-hand experience of the industry – from whatever side of it they come. This has been very successfully piloted in BALI’s South Thames Region and is shortly to be rolled out across the association’s remaining eight regions.

Alongside this direct action, industry bodies are directly lobbying ministers for help with raising the profile of the green space sector. Defra’s spokesman in the House of Lords, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, joined BALI members at the 40th anniversary BALI National Landscape Awards last December, acknowledging the increasingly vital contribution that landscaping and grounds maintenance makes to public wellbeing, social cohesion, environmental stewardship, and to GDP.

This month, BALI had a meeting at the Department for Education with the Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP. Amongst the issues for discussion were how government can help the industry to dramatically increase its profile amongst educators and careers advisors so that they are sufficiently informed to introduce landscaping to young people and their parents and advisors as a credible and sustainable career option with a wealth of opportunities for all levels of academic achievement.

We are now entering the show season and our garden designers, contractors and product suppliers are preparing for the build-up to RHS flower shows across the country. It is worth remembering that these public-facing shows are our industry’s shop window for attracting new talent. Last year BALI was delighted to sponsor the inaugural RHS Young Landscape Contractor competition, which took place at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, and will be doing so again this year. The 2016 winner, 25 year old Ewan Sewell, not only won the title but also an RHS Gold medal and the show’s Best Construction award. This remarkable achievement illustrates beautifully the career potential that this industry offers.

Surely an industry that contributes so much to all our lives deserves to be very much higher up the list for consideration as a career? Government, educators and careers advisors, take note!

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