I wondered if I could ask your advice. I am looking for a trainee gardener position but am finding it extremely difficult. Doing the distance learning is great for me but it does mean I have no one to network with. I have tried all the usual routes, scouring Gumtree daily and applying for everything, Horti job websites but many of the recruiters won’t consider me for gardening positions without professional experience which of course I cannot get if no one gives me a break! Its quite frustrating, its actually a very hard industry to get into without knowing anyone, much harder I find than office work. Do you have any contacts, or special websites or agencies that you know of that I can try? Or any different routes I can take? Anything would be gratefully received.
Thanks a lot…
I appreciate that it can be frustrating taking that first step into a new career area. This is particularly the case at the moment when the job market is so difficult.
However, on the positive side I know personally of quite a number of students who have found jobs or launched their own businesses within the last year, even before they finished their courses. They didn’t all have work experience, either, so there is hope, even in the current climate!
In terms of the experience ‘hurdle’, there are a couple of approaches you could consider here:
- The first possibility is that you find some way of gaining the experience you feel is lacking – there are many big gardens, for example that offer volunteer programmes, e.g. Botanic Gardens, RHS or National Trust gardens, or stately homes. These are a good way to make connections and get to know people in your local gardening community, as well as being a useful source of experience.
A number of students have also written to local local companies/gardens as a way of finding work experience – so they might work unpaid for 4 – 6 weeks. Sometimes this then leads into a job – not always, and I wouldn’t want to overplay that possibility, but it can lead into a job, and worst case scenario, you have some work experience under your belt. at the same time you are getting to know more people in your local gardening community.
Or you could launch your own part-time gardening business, working with clients say one day a week to begin with. If you already have your own gardening equipment, you can launch a basic gardening business with no money and just a little time, so it’s one way to get up and running quickly and begin chalking up relevant experience (as well as starting to bring a bit of money in, if that’s needed).
- The second approach is to find some way of reframing your current experience so that you are really putting across to potential employers just how much interest and ‘informal’ experience you have in horticulture. (And to be honest, I’d do this anyway.) This can count for a lot – for instance, say you completely redesigned or revamped one of your own gardens in recent years, or you’ve successfully run an allotment for a few years – this absolutely counts as useful experience and you should add it to your cv. It’s also a great thing to be able to talk about in interview – if you put something like that on your CV they’ll almost certainly ask about it, and you can then use it to put across a sense of your enthusiasm and knowledge of your subject.
In terms of searching for jobs – local newspapers and jobs boards are always a good starting point, as many smaller local jobs are not advertised on the big national boards. However, the national boards include:
Or you could try writing to local gardens/companies who you would be interested in working for, with a copy of your cv to ask if they have any jobs currently. Many jobs aren’t widely advertised, so this is a good way of letting local companies know you are there, even if they don’t have anything to offer you immediately. (This is also why volunteer programmes at big gardens can be such a good idea – people get to know you and you are at the front of their mind when job opportunities do crop up.)
Finally, some students find that the best way into horticulture is to combine their existing professional skills with a horticultural context, so they are moving ‘sideways’ rather than starting from scratch in a completely new area, and hopefully from there can move around within the company to a more practical horticultural position, e.g. one of my students had spent 20 years working in marketing and joined a horticultural company in their marketing team, with the plan to try to shift sideways into other areas once established in the company. This is especially a good option when joining quite a small business where there is generally more flexibility to move between posts.
The best solution depends on the sort of job you are looking for and where you are currently at. As I don’t really know anything about your current work/financial situation, I realise some of the suggestions above may not be appropriate, but I hope some of them will be useful.