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Selina Tan made the move from an office-based career in photo editing to horticulture. She is in her third year of The Royal Parks’ apprenticeship, based at Richmond Park.

The lightbulb moment – choosing a career in Horticulture

I had become very tired of my office job and fell out of love with it. I wanted to spend more time outdoors which led me to volunteering in a community garden. Whilst I was volunteering, I kept thinking about how much I wanted to do more of this. A few hours a week wasn’t enough. This gradually led to a lightbulb moment.

When I made the decision to change careers from photo editing to horticulture, I did a lot of research and had contacted various establishments on how to go about it. Everyone pretty much pointed me to an apprenticeship. The opportunity to study whilst getting paid and gain experience in a real working environment was a no brainer.

And here I am! I chose Richmond Park because of the conservation focus and for the added bonus of being able to work in the Isabella Plantation for a year.

Getting on the scheme

I saw an article about the The Royal Parks’ scheme and contacted the apprentice officer at the time – and luckily I got an interview!

The interview was intense, but fun. It included a tour of The Regent’s Park, speed interviews with a representative from each park, an interview with the college as well as an English and Maths test. Although it was nerve wrecking, I felt like they were genuinely interested in what I wanted to gain from the experience and so even though you may apply for one park, they might offer you another if they feel like it suits you.

Once I got through the first stage, I was invited to Richmond Park for a one-on-one interview and a tour. After that, it was a good few weeks of nerves and butterflies until I finally got accepted!

My first day

My first day was relaxed and welcoming. After changing into my new uniform and going through the health and safety, I met the different teams. Once I had settled in, the gardeners took me on a tour and showed me various plants that were in flower at the time. Overall, they just wanted me to feel comfortable and to get my bearings as it is a pretty large park!  They eased me in slowly, but I more or less got stuck straight in. They explained the jobs and were very patient with me, answering the hundreds of questions I had for them but ultimately the only way to learn was to just do the jobs and give it a go.

Learning on the job

Within the 3-year scheme, you have a chance to gain two Level 2 qualifications as well as other skill specific qualifications such as First Aid or Ride-on mowing.

Throughout the apprenticeship you get a study day once a week to attend college, which is a great opportunity to meet other fellow apprentices. The course involves theory and practical lessons covering everything from pests to lawn mowing to business management. You’ll produce a journal showcasing what you do at work and the theory behind it. This will go towards your final assessment which also involves a practical exam, professional discussion (about your journals) and a theory test.

Learning from others

I’ve had great support from the Royal Parks from the park managers and Adam - our apprentice officer, the college - through my teacher and assessor, the contractor I work for, and of course my colleagues. I’m lucky that I get to work with them every day as they teach me everything from their years of experience, it's the little tips and tricks they have shown me that are invaluable.

Part of the day-to-day working team

I am always given opportunities to learn and to get the first-hand experience needed to develop as a horticulturist. A simple job, like weeding, can become a chance to really get down and study plants and understand how they grow and change. Gardening really allows you to feel the seasons which is a great experience for me personally.

Plans for the future

I hope to continue my education and study somewhere like Kew or Wisely. This will give me an opportunity to work with completely new plant collections so that I can expand my knowledge and to gain more experience in a different environment.  Later, I would like to work within the public green space sector, but this could easily change as this is such a broad industry with so many interesting paths to choose.

What would you say to someone considering being an apprentice?

Do your research, ask lots of questions and understand what is involved. Working outdoors can be a challenge as well as managing the coursework alongside a full-time job. However, that being said, just have fun with it! Having three years to learn and explore is a great opportunity and gives you the time to try new things and embrace the unique environment you get to work in. Each park has so much to offer so always stay curious and inquisitive and I trust you will get a lot out of it.

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