By Sue White
Firefighter Steven Walker’s side gig as an urban gardening educator came about by accident rather than design.
“I’ve always been interested in growing my own produce and love relaxing in the garden, so I enrolled in a TAFE NSW Urban Food Growing course to build up my skills. I had no plans in using the skills in any way other than as a hobby,” Walker says.
Walker loved the study and the content, and was inspired to keep learning. The fulltime firefighter now runs his horticultural education business called Urban Grow on the side, offering incursions for young children and professional development for educators.
“I was involved in gardening projects with a few schools. I found that one of the biggest barriers schools had when trying to implement garden programs was a lack of confidence many teachers have in their gardening skills. You’ll rarely have a problem getting kids out into the garden, but it can be an intimidating environment for educators, especially if you don’t think you have a green thumb,” he says.
Walker isn’t the only one turning to a horticulture career. Enrolments in the TAFE NSW Certificate III in Horticulture have doubled since 2018. While the increased demand is partly due to people turning to gardening while stuck at home during the pandemic, COVID isn’t the only thing that’s been nudging more of us towards horticultural careers.
“The proliferation of home and garden improvement TV and radio shows have revolutionised the profession,” says TAFE NSW teacher Tony Momi, who says participants in the Certificate III in Horticulture include everyone from school leavers looking for a first career to parents keen on retraining.
Momi believes that boom in both the construction and home renovation sector have strengthened the horticultural industry.
“Each new home and development requires a landscape plan. You first need landscape designers to design these spaces and landscapers to construct those gardens. Then you need horticulturalists to maintain them to ensure vigour and longevity,” he says.
Graduates of horticulture certificates typically find jobs with large chains like Flower Power or Bunnings or with local councils. Some join the many landscaping and maintenance businesses specialising in contract works, while others, like Walker, start a business of their own.
“There are definitely a lot more opportunities in horticulture than I realised,” says Walker, who also runs workshops for councils on topics like composting, native plants, habitat building and growing your own food.
“[Plus] sustainability and garden programs are important parts of school curriculums now, so I think the opportunities will only grow,” Walker says.
Horticultural courses have evolved over the years to ensure they continue to provide ‘job ready’ skills for graduates.
“Urban consolidation has increased the need for rooftop and vertical gardens, thus they are trending now,” Momi says.
While pottering in a garden is relaxing, those considering a career change need to realise that elements of horticulture can be quite physical. For Walker, it’s a part of the job he enjoys.
“There’s bending to plant seeds, lugging bags of soil around or stretching to prune a tree. These are really functional movements which is great for your physical health,” he said.
“I’ve worked with a lot of community gardens and so many of the older gardeners are as strong as an ox, which is inspiring.”
Source: Thanks smh.com