Leigh Morris, CEO, Blog

From Horticulture to Land Based

After 30+ years of being mainly focused on horticulture, plants and latterly wider biodiversity conservation, I am delighted to be in a much wider land based world, and after a few months in post at NLBC I firmly believe that there is potential for much greater collaboration across our whole sector…

There are of course clear differences between areas of the land based sector, and running a riding stables is certainly quite different to, for example, being an agricultural engineer, a fish farmer, landscaper, florist, zoo keeper or golf greenkeeper. Even within the sectors there are strong differences and my own horticulture background shows me that you only need to listen to conversations between arborists and foresters, greenkeepers and cricket groundsmen, or bedding plant and nursery stock growers to understand that they each see ‘their sector’ as unique.

We must certainly ensure that we value and champion the identity of all the different sectors and sub-sectors within our land based sphere. Yet at the same time I believe that there are huge synergies and overlap between land based disciplines and a great potential for stimulating economies of scale, strategic alliances, government support and increased fundraising by collaborating under a wider banner. The National Land Based College aims to stimulate and facilitate such joint working.

One of the best training courses I’ve ever attended was in 1991 when I spent a week at Builth Wells on an Agricultural Training Board (ATB) Instructional Techniques Course. This had a mixture of people from right across the land based sector and I’m certain that all those on the course gained far more from it because of that eclectic mix. Clearly there are some courses that must be sector specific, but not only may wider audiences make a course more interesting and dynamic, such inclusion may actually make it more financially viable (in terms of numbers) for the more niche sectors of our industry.

There is no doubt in my mind that in careers promotion there is much to be gained by greater collaboration: When I was in my early teenage years I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, but I had a love of the outdoors and the countryside and spent most of my time fishing. My summer holiday job was treading in holes in the grass between races at York Racecourse and every October half term I earned money to buy more fishing tackle by spud picking on a local farm. At 16, inspired by the vision of becoming a forester in Canada(!), I signed up for a Youth Training Scheme in Forestry at Askham Bryan College (ABC), York. However, on arrival on day one I was told “sorry, there are only two of you who want to do forestry, so you’ll have to do horticulture, but we’ve got you a placement on a large local tree nursery (Johnsons of Whixley)”. Frankly at 16 I was simply happy to have a job in the outdoors. Three years later I went back to ABC to complete a National Certificate in Horticulture (NCH), but to this day I think I’d have just as happily done the NC in Agriculture course and often wish I’d done it straight after my NCH!

My learning from my own experience (and that of many other young people) is that we try and pigeon-hole people into a specific sector of our industry at too young an age. I believe we should be inspiring them about the full spectrum of opportunities that exist within land based and then (aided by the excellent existing sector specific initiatives such as Bright Crop, Grow Careers and the new Royal Forestry Society web site) guide them towards the path(s) that are right for them to follow. To help achieve this, the NLBC are going to devote a page on our website to providing links to all the existing on-line land based careers web sites and we will then add to this some new tools that communicate the varied careers across the whole sector. The ambition is that when people are (for example) inspired by watching ‘Countryfile’ they can access our site that will inform and guide their next steps…

In 2014 I wrote a foreword for ‘The Horticulturist’ journal entitled Horticultural Education and highlighted the need for greater collaboration between education providers and industry, the need to re-invent centres of excellence and the great potential for post-college training, industry groups, more dynamic apprenticeships and on-line and blended learning. It’s now clear in my mind that these needs are the same across the whole land based sector and my foreword in 2014 reads just like the NLBC job description I applied for in 2015! It is wonderful to now be leading an organisation, which has that precise ambition for the whole land based sector and I’d be delighted to hear from any organisations who would like to help us take this forward…

Leigh @MorrisLeigh

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