Do qualifications matter in Horticulture?

Last week I stumbled upon a series of tweets, such as this one;

My initial response to that was that it’s a somewhat ‘elitist’ view – one often offered by people that already have the qualifications they claim all should have. However, her following tweet made a very valid point;

So, is she right? Qualifications in general I think are over-rated and practical, ‘on the job’ experience is far more valuable. I personally have a C&G Level 4 diploma in computer science (equivalent to a HND/HNC, I’m told) – but I’ve never mentioned it to an employer or been asked about it. In fact, I don’t think I even have the certificate anymore. A part of that is down to the fact I’ve spent so much of my career working for myself, or in companies I founded or co-founded – but on the odd occasion I have worked as an employee, it was my experience and portfolio that got me the job – I was never even asked for a CV.

Qualifications Vs Experience

In my ’employer’ role, I’ve interviewed graduates for posts that on paper they should be more than capable of doing, but in reality they were completely clueless – and I mean with the very basics. They understood the theory, but had no idea how to put it into practice.

The values of qualifications of course depends on the job. She’s correct that few would employ an unqualified electrician, and I’d be horrified to learn my Doctor was unqualified. But a gardener? Personally, I don’t think many householders would even be aware such qualifications existed, let alone ask if they had them. I suspect most ‘odd job’ gardeners – those you’d perhaps get in to mow the lawn once a fortnight – work largely on reputation. I recall in my early teens earning some pocket money mowing the lawn and doing some weeding for elderly householders in my town, and to my knowledge I did a perfectly adequate job of it. Should I have been excluded from doing that because I was unqualified? I don’t think so – but of course I was never selling myself as a professional.

‘Anyone can be a gardener’

The problem I guess stems from the fact anyone can ‘do’ gardening. There’s pretty much no barrier to entry, bar owning some cheap tools and a lawnmower. That has a tendency to attract what may be termed ‘cowboys’. Those that lay new turf on old without any preparation at all. However, I’m not sure a qualification requirement as such would stop such people.

When you begin to move up to more ‘professional’ gardening – design, pruning, training etc, then qualifications start to gain some importance. Simply because the theory element becomes more critical, and it would be reasonable for clients to expect you to be able to back up your work with theory. But would I employ a ‘qualified’ gardener to design and plant my garden if they’d never done it outside the ‘classroom’ before? Probably not. As with most occupations, nothing beats experience.

Qualifications aren’t the answer – and I say that as someone studying for one. What *is* needed is better awareness of the organisations ‘professional’ gardeners can hold membership with – think ‘Gas Safe’ for Gardeners, as an example.

As a side note, Monty Don has no formal horticultural qualifications. I’d be more than happy for him to do whatever he pleases with my garden!

Category: Opinion
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