At Instant Scenery, we have recently passed our sixth birthday. I started out on my Horticultural career after spending several years studying at the well renowned Pershore College of Horticulture. Since then, our team has expanded and we have recruited more like-minded green-fingered staff in the business to help us with rising demand.
Managing people, be they employees or contractors, is a key part of my work as a landscape gardener. Yet the hardest part is not the daily management of people, but the actual acquisition of new staff. Interviews and CVs are all very well, but what really counts is attitude. Taking on a younger employee allows you to mould them more into what you need as an employer. Which is why, this year, Instant Scenery will be taking on our first apprentice. Knowing my own experience and education I received from Pershore, I have turned to the prestigious college to see if they can find me a suitably able youngster to take under my wing. (No jokes about the Old Boy Network please!)
Learning through doing is the best way, in my experience. Especially with a practical subject like landscape gardening and garden maintenance. There is a combination between the physical skill, contained in nerves and stored in muscle memory through repeated action, and the knowledge that is learned, that can only be developed through actual experience in the garden. As my old gaffer used to say: “Gardening is something that can’t be learned through books!”
So, what then should I look for in . . . my new apprentice? (Oh come on! We’ve just had a new Star Wars film out haven’t we? If I can’t be allowed to put on a silly voice, squint my eyes and wear a black dish cloth over my head then I’ll never be able to!) The key thing of taking on anyone new in this age group is to understand that you won’t have the finished article. Real life and real business is not like that God-awful Apprentice drivel with Alan Sugar, who fires people for making mistakes (in real life, we all make mistakes. It’s just getting that balance right between risk and reward and also ensuring that, if it does go wrong, you can come back from it). When you take an apprentice on you are their to help them develop: they have to be free, within reason, to make some mistakes, but you have to be there to ensure they don’t hole anything beneath the waterline and that they have the opportunity to learn from it.
I am fine with that. Good business should, as well as be financially sound, also be about inspiring the next generation as well as giving them opportunities. Nor do I expect them to be fully educated in the trade. This isn’t the same as taking on a full graduate from a university, who might have brains but not smarts. Here, the experience I offer has to be relevant to the education. It should build upon it so they can go back to the august halls of learning to bring real life examples into the theory.
So for me, above all, I think it has to be a mix of two things: the willingness to learn, so that I can encourage them whilst they help me with their existing skills. Then there is also reliability. You can have all the brains and skills in the world, but if you aren’t reliable or dependable then you are going to remain unemployable. If you turn up ten minutes late each day or disappear for a ninety-minute lunch hour, then there’s little I will be able (or willing) to teach you.
I do feel fortunate in having such a glorious educational institute to call upon in my grand search however. This means that rigorous screening has already been applied to the students who are browning their fingers in the earth for the first time. The teachers will know them, and my request, I am sure, will be answered with a short list.
This is Instant Scenery’s first step at this type of expansion. It is a duty and an opportunity.
And it is very, very exciting.