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Arts and the Great Outdoors Apprentices

Green Space Apprentices

(with thanks to CABE for permission to use these case studies. See their Guide to Green Space Apprentices Opens in a new windowhere.)

Haringey’s parks apprenticeship scheme has been running for five years, and with most of the workforce due to retire within ten years, it aims to provide essential renewal and succession of skills. The parks service is well integrated with the rest of the local council, with monthly ward meetings of all the frontline services such as street cleaning, police and parks which helps co-ordinate work to produce a dramatic visual effect. The staff are particularly proud of the borough’s 12 green flag awards.

Previous apprentices have been successful in obtaining employment as permanent members of staff on applying for vacancies left following the retirement of senior team members.

The CLG grant funding in 2009 enabled two additional apprentices to be taken on. There were 47 applicants for the 2009 apprenticeship posts from adverts in local magazines and newspapers and following a selection process, Chris Russell and Chesney Ellis were recruited.

Chris Russell trained as a motor mechanic to Level 3, but found it boring. His family are keen gardeners, and he has always enjoyed spending time in parks and so decided to apply for the parks apprenticeship. He likes learning on the job, and dealing with machines, flowers and shrubs. Chesney Ellis also started out on a career path he found uninspiring before taking up the parks apprenticeship post. He trained as an electrician to Level 1 as well as retaking an English exam, but found it boring.  He likes to be outside and loves parks and enjoys learning while working. Chris and Chesney both value family interest and support for their apprenticeship.

The apprentices follow the national Level 2 apprenticeship framework at Capel Manor College. Mentoring is provided by the college tutor and by their manager. Supervisors try to be aware of and follow the college plan and assist the apprentices with college work. The manager is pleased with the apprentices because they are keen, having made a positive career choice, and, living close to their parks, they are expected to stay for a long time.

The apprenticeship scheme adds value to the Haringey parks service, particularly in the light of the current need for efficiency savings, as it helps to protect the area, maintaining and improving standards. The apprenticeship scheme has enabled additional work, for example in response to recommendations from the Green Flag judges, a new shrub border has been created and mulched with recycled garden waste from the neighbouring borough’s composting plant. This compost is also provided free of charge for the borough’s allotments.

Training offered to staff includes day courses from Capel Manor College on specific subjects such as maintaining herbaceous plants and longer courses on specialist areas such as sports turf. It is also a very welcoming workplace that respects and encourages diversity. The neighbourhood manager says that Haringey has come a long way in the past ten years, and the apprenticeship scheme has played a significant part in this.

Newham is used the CLG apprenticeship grant to fund additional green space apprentices with Serco, the contractor delivering their green space services.

In line with local policies ensuring local jobs go to local people, the apprenticeships were advertised via Workplace, a local council organisation focusing on the needs of long term unemployed local people. Ten were selected from an initial 24 applicants for further interviews and apprentices appointed. The managers gave in-house training to the apprentices to get them up to college screening level for numeracy and literacy so that they could be accepted for college training.

The three apprentices, Lee Catterick, Mehar Singh and Sam Peters, are all contributing to, and benefitting from, the apprenticeship in different ways. Lee, who had had a spell in prison, had done some part time and voluntary gardening. He was keen to learn more about gardening but had registered with Workplace for short building courses before being accepted as a parks apprentice at Newham. Lee wants expertise and to be multi-tasking. The best thing about the role for Lee is learning new skills, seeing the wildlife, and the hard work.

Sam’s whole family are keen horticulturalists and he has had several gardening jobs before taking on the Newham apprenticeship. Following in his father’s footsteps, who is a groundsman for Serco in Newham, Sam finds the best thing is the reward of being able to answer a question from a member of the public, such as about how to mark a right angle on a football pitch - to be an expert.

Mehar did business studies at college, but did not complete the course, and subsequently worked for seven years in retailing. He did short courses, but retailing was not the business for him, so he left. As he and his mother are passionate gardeners, Workplace directed him to the parks apprenticeship and now he enjoys the fresh air, the variety of work and learning, and the pleasure in achieving a well kept place. He enjoys asking technical questions at college and work and gets up in the morning keen to come to work. Mehar has been very surprised and impressed to find that in horticulture everyone helps everyone else with their work; unlike in retailing where it is rare for someone to offer a hand.

The apprentices study at Capel Manor College one day a week, being transported there in the morning and given the fare home. The apprentices’ work programme and experience is planned for variety and to tie in with college, and to allow apprentices to choose their interests. Newham adds value to the apprenticeship by sharing the training with the Royal Parks and Corporation of London, swopping apprentices for a few days at a time so that they can learn in different environments. This range of experience also looks good on the apprentice’s CV.

Newham plans to enter the apprentices in the APSE Horticultural Apprentice of the Year competition next year. Serco also has internal awards and celebrates the achievements of its staff, particularly in their in-house magazine.

Newham’s ageing parks workforce (employed by Serco), with many staff due to retire within five years makes succession planning a priority. Apprenticeships are seen as the solution and many of Newham’s most experienced parks staff worked their way up from an apprenticeship prior to their decline due to compulsory competitive tendering in the 1980s. The council contracts out its park services, currently on a five-year contract with Serco but the contract specifies that two new green space apprentices must be appointed every year, with the aim of employing them at end of the apprenticeship. The apprenticeships were part of the contract negotiation with some contractors pricing it high as a liability, while others priced it low as a benefit. Serco’s managers are very keen on apprenticeships.

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