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New Diploma to Meet Skills Shortage in Amenity Horticulture

18 Oct 2007

Since Adam met Eve in the Garden of Eden, the beauty of the natural environs of creation has impassioned the horticultural aspirations of people for all time.

And certainly, as one of the seven wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon attested to the unique artistry of horticultural creativity.

But a current skill shortage in the amenity horticulture industry, estimated to be worth $1.6 billion and with more than11,000 employees in Victoria, has led to the development of a new educational program to ensure people can obtain high level skills to meet the increased demand for employment within the industry.

Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT) will deliver the new Diploma in Ornamental Horticulture next year. The Diploma was recently accredited by the Victorian Government to address the skills shortage in the industry.

Focusing on traditional craftsmanship or 'plantsmanship', the Diploma includes 14 units of study which incorporate high level skills training in areas such as applied botany and plant physiology, plant identification and selection, soils and soil management, sustainable horticulture, heritage and technical skills in garden care and maintenance.

Industry Training Board in Victoria, Primary Skills Victoria, Executive Officer, Greg Hallihan, said industry had recognised there was a deficit in skill levels and a skills gap in Australia to the point where employment positions in amenity horticulture were being advertised overseas in Europe, particularly in England.

'Professional associations began lobbying to introduce a new training program to skill people and provide a professional pathway into high-level horticultural employment positions in this country', Greg said.

'This led to the development of the new Diploma as other national training packages were more management and business focused at the higher levels of training.'

Greg added that with older people retiring, there was a lack of highly-skilled employees in the industry.

Victoria was the first state to develop such a Diploma which Greg hoped would be picked up by other states around the country.

'This new diploma is more to do with the purity of horticulture as distinct from business. It's for people who are passionate about beauty, aesthetics and sustainability and who are committed to science rather than the dollar.'

NMIT Horticulture teacher Michael Hirst, who was a member of the steering committee which helped develop the Diploma, said the Diploma focused on the science behind plants and more importantly, how that was applied in horticulture.

Employment outcomes include local government, landscape companies, garden maintenance companies, historic gardens, botanic gardens and institutions for work in commercial and civic gardens as well as domestic gardens and parks.

One of the features of the new Diploma is it includes nearly three weeks work placement in industry and NMIT expects to establish a range of horticulture industry employers to accommodate these work placements for students.

'Industry thought workplace experience was essential whereby students could apply their new skills directly. This means that what we teach will be complemented by experience on the job.' Michael said.

He added that with previous training packages, there was an emphasis on 'doing', without knowing and understanding the reasons behind the doing by students.

'Students learned how to do without knowing why, and this new Diploma puts the why into the training, so students can make decisions and judgements based on scientific knowledge and skills about plants from an all encompassing perspective.'

Michael said the Diploma was ' an essential guide to plantsmanship' which incorporated science and aesthetics.

With over 30 years experience in the industry, campus manager at the University of Melbourne Wayne Williams said the Diploma was 'a great opportunity for people to receive skills training to meet the needs in the industry.

'The Diploma is really important to facilitate high level training so students understand large landscapes, both public and private, as well as good design and maintenance.

'The integration of theory and practice means students will have a strong understanding and experience in the field.'

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NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) - Situated on seven campuses and six training centres throughout Melbourne's north, NMIT delivers vocational training, higher education and lifelong learning capabilities for a global workforce. NMIT forges partnerships with community, industry and government to produce practical, solution orientated graduates capable of making meaningful contributions to their chosen field of endeavour.