Auckland’s Botanic Gardens are promoted as a place “where ideas grow” – and that rings as true for the staff as it does for the plants and the visiting public.
The Botanic Gardens span 64ha in Manurewa, South Auckland, where over 30 fulltime staff are employed to engage with the public and tend to thousands of different species of exotic and native plants.
With nearly 1 million people visiting each year, the Gardens are a place for recreation, education, conservation and research. An on-site nursery grows 65,000 plants for Auckland’s regional parks each year and the same number again for use in the Gardens. There’s a big focus on plant breeding, cultivation and evaluation; managing and maintaining soil fertility; recycling organic waste through composting; and managing and controlling plant pests and diseases through sustainable means and plant selection.
Highly-skilled and knowledgeable staff are required and Senior Gardener Shaun Rice oversees an apprenticeship programme which involves on-the-job training with Primary ITO to help staff achieve nationally-recognised qualifications in amenity horticulture.
“Our apprenticeship programme runs for three years. We have a number of team leaders here who started as apprentices and have worked their way up. It’s been good to have that succession process in place and to help advance people’s careers through that pathway.”
Shaun says Primary ITO training is staggered, beginning with Level 2 papers and advancing to Level 4 over the course of the apprenticeship.
“People aren’t just dropped in the deep end when they enter an apprenticeship. They learn the basics first and then build on them over time. That stepped progression gives us a chance to have a blend of people at different stages of their horticultural learning. It also allows for the mentoring of staff by their fellow apprentices and more senior work colleagues.
“We certainly want our all of our staff to grow and develop in their roles, as well as the plants they care for. Our apprentices, once they finish their three years, will hopefully come out of an apprenticeship with a broad range of knowledge and skills. This will set them up for careers either here at the Gardens or elsewhere within the wider amenity industry.”
Shaun says one major challenge facing the amenity horticulture industry is a lack of awareness in many secondary schools about the career paths and jobs available.
“Horticulture just doesn’t seem to be a subject that’s taught in many high schools these days. Certainly not, to a large degree, in urban areas. The younger generation is more environmentally aware and we need to tap into that and promote horticulture as a viable career path.
“There are a variety of well-paid and highly technical roles within the industry and the number of these will continue to grow as the industry itself evolves. We need to grow a greater awareness of the industry and horticulture in general for that matter, so that young people leaving school see it as a first choice career option rather than fifth or sixth choice.
“It’s certainly a fun job. We don’t have a great deal of staff turnover. We do have a great environment to work in here and the staff appreciate that. When the sun is shining, it’s not a bad ‘office’ to come and work at each day.”
The benefits of training with Primary ITO include the range of qualifications and quality of unit standards available, along with the support offered by Primary ITO training advisors. Shaun believes staff feel appreciated when their employer invests in their professional development, and on-the-job training can be tailored to meet people’s different learning needs.
“It’s all about continual improvement. As long as we can continue to make advances in staff learning and development, we ourselves as a workplace won’t become static and we will also remain responsive to the needs of our staff and hopefully to the public as well.
“We like to think of ourselves as a hub in terms of horticultural knowledge that people can tap into to get ideas for their own gardens at home. When our staff are well-trained and accrue knowledge and experience through implementing that training, they can then pass it on to members of the public whom they interact with.”