Wellington City Council is often at the top of people’s wish list when it comes to landing an apprenticeship position in amenity horticulture.
That’s because of their long-standing rotational apprenticeship scheme. New employees spend three months in a particular depot (such as the Wellington Botanic Gardens, Horticulture Team and Berhampore Nursery) to learn key skills before moving onto the next depot, and also receive extensive on-the-job training in partnership with Primary ITO.
“Our aim over our three year apprenticeship programme is to get them around all the different aspects within amenity horticulture and give them a really well-rounded training,” explains Vikki Muxlow, Business Support and Performance Manager for Parks, Sport and Recreation at the council.
“A strong drawcard for us as an employer is that we’ve retained our apprenticeship programme over the years whereas others haven’t. We’re also helping to resource the industry. It’s great to see our staff move through from apprenticeships to gardening or curating, then onto management positions within our organisation.”
Vikki started at Wellington City Council as an apprentice herself in 1989. She now’s part of the management team that oversees 700 staff – the largest business unit within Wellington City Council.
The wider team is responsible for maintaining over 4000ha of parks and reserves including public parks, open spaces such as Wellington’s Town Belt, the waterfront area, and swimming pools and recreation centres across the city.
In addition to amenity horticulture apprentices, a number of staff from other operational teams such as sports fields, weed control and arboriculture also do on-the-job training and study towards industry qualifications with Primary ITO.
“Not everyone wants to take time off from the workforce to study. Allowing our staff the opportunity to develop with Primary ITO as part of their daily job is really important.
“It helps grow the overall awareness of our industry too because it builds a base platform of knowledge and understanding that our staff can then share with the wider community and voluntary groups they work with.”
From an employer’s perspective, Vikki says industry training and apprenticeship programmes make a great deal of sense. They produce highly-skilled staff and their trainees often then step into full time roles with Wellington City Council as they become available.
“We’ve been doing it for such a long time and have got it working really well. We have a good reputation in the industry and the ability to offer a wide range of training and experience is to our benefit. We’ve also got a great team of people to work with here which is another selling point for us to attract new staff.”
Vikki says the ideal apprenticeship candidate is someone with a passion for plants or the environment, who is enthusiastic, and who loves to work outdoors. Age is no barrier and the council likes to employ people from diverse backgrounds.
“We really see our apprenticeship programme as a learning opportunity to get someone in the door who has a real passion for amenity horticulture and is keen to learn.”
Primary ITO provides support via a dedicated Training Advisor which Vikki says works really well.
“Jonathan’s great. He’s very approachable and easy going. Every person learns in a different way and Primary ITO are really flexible if a particular person has a certain learning style.”
On-the-job training has helped improve the overall team culture within the council’s Parks, Sport and Recreation unit, and has increased efficiency and productivity as well.
Vikki says the council is lucky to have a co-ordinator employed part-time to help track the study progress of staff members and manage the apprenticeship scheme. While many other organisations and businesses don’t have that luxury, she highly recommends workplace training opportunities be pursued.
“It is a balance, especially depending on the time of year, but we recognise the importance of learning and upskilling and giving our staff the time they need to do their training.”