Competency-based training planting seeds of growth at garden centre

Nature Care, a leading garden centre and horticulture business, is one of several businesses in Barbados which has embraced competency-based training (CBT), and has seen a noticeable growth in its service levels and in the confidence and skills of its staff as a result.

Nature Care, which has approximately 85 employees in Barbados as well as 20 through its franchise in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) assessment centre providing competency-based training for its employees through the NVQ in Amenity Horticulture (Level 1).

Sharon Smith-Callender is head gardener at Nature Care and can personally testify to the benefits of competency-based training having gone through the NVQ in Amenity Horticulture in 2013.

Sharon Smith-Callender is head gardener at Nature Care and can personally testify to the benefits of competency-based training having gone through the NVQ in Amenity Horticulture in 2013.

Simply put, competency-based training is a learning system which considers learners competent in an occupational area based on how well they practically demonstrate their mastery of skills, knowledge and attitudes. This is its key difference to traditional education systems which rely on acquiring content-based knowledge and test-taking only. Learners deemed competent then receive a National (or other) Vocational Qualification certifying their expertise in that occupational area.

Owner of Nature Care, Russell Corrie says the results are promising. "With our successful NVQ candidates we've seen that as they become more competent they have more confidence in themselves and become candidates for promotion and taking on greater responsibilities," he said. "Many candidates are now team leaders and they are bringing a stronger skill set to their job. So we've really enhanced the quality and service levels at Nature Care and over the long-term we expect to see an improvement in our bottom line", Mr. Corrie added.

Owner of Nature Care, Russell Corrie says the results are promising. “With our successful NVQ candidates we’ve seen that as they become more competent they have more confidence in themselves and become candidates for promotion and taking on greater responsibilities,” he said. “Many candidates are now team leaders and they are bringing a stronger skill set to their job. So we’ve really enhanced the quality and service levels at Nature Care and over the long-term we expect to see an improvement in our bottom line“, Mr. Corrie added.

Benefits of havingcertificate in your hand

Sharon Smith-Callender is head gardener at Nature Care and can personally testify to the benefits of competency-based training having gone through the NVQ in Amenity Horticulture in 2013. “It’s OK to learn on the job but it’s even better when your knowledge can expand a bit more and when you have that certificate in your hand showing that you’re qualified for the work you’re doing.”

Ms. Smith-Callender added that she was glad that Nature Care introduced the NVQ because, “I always wanted certification to show that I’m qualified to do what I’m doing. There are so many people working in gardening so it’s great that Nature Care has stepped up to equip its staff.

The head gardener, who also conducts garden tours at a west coast hotel, said that through the Amenity Horticulture NVQ she had learnt to perform tasks better and more consistently such as making full use of safety gear, natural pest management techniques, and the best ways to mix sprays for optimal usage and results. “The NVQ taught and helped us a lot.

Nature Care team: (from left) Margaret Thomas, Sharon Smith-Callender and Denise Moore.

Nature Care team: (from left) Margaret Thomas, Sharon Smith-Callender and Denise Moore.

Recalling his own experience with competency-based training, Mr. Corrie said that some years ago the TVET Council, which is mandated to plan, coordinate and establish standards and qualifications for the discipline of TVET, invited industry representatives to work on occupational standards for the horticulture industry. At that time he knew little about CBT in theory. “My educational experience in horticulture was hands-on, it wasn’t designed as CBT but that’s what it was. So when the NVQ concept was reintroduced, I knew it could work for Nature Care because it had worked for me personally.”

It is no surprise, therefore, that Mr. Corrie has lauded the recently-launched Competency-Based Training Fund (CBTF) as a major opportunity especially for those members of the private sector who think they are unable to afford training for their employees.

At a recent Information Workshop for employers and training providers held by the CBTF Management Unit, Mr. Corrie said that he’d like to see employers “who think they can’t afford to train their staff start accessing funds such as the CBTF and the Employment and Training Fund (ETF), which make training affordable.”

The CBTF is a Government of Barbados/Inter-American Development Bank initiative established to better equip the Barbadian workforce with the skills and competencies they need to excel in the 21st century market place. The fund will disburse $13 million over a three-year period in four cycles of funding to partnerships of training providers and employers to implement competency-based training (CBT) programmes. Training must be based on occupational standards in National and Caribbean Vocational Qualifications registered in the TVET Council, or be new standards to be developed and validated under the proposal.

Vision forschool of gardening

In terms of the future, Mr. Corrie, who started Nature Care to earn pocket money while an economics student at the University of the West Indies, sees the attainment of NVQs being benchmarked with pay, as well as Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQs) being seen as the equivalent to a work permit. “I hope one day that the CVQ will allow holders to jump on a plane, work overseas, and come back.”

Nature Care gardeners (from left) Margaret Thomas and Denise Moore trim bougainvillea under the direction of head gardener, Sharon Smith-Callender at the Colony Club in St. James.

Nature Care gardeners (from left) Margaret Thomas and Denise Moore trim bougainvillea under the direction of head gardener, Sharon Smith-Callender at the Colony Club in St. James.

Mr. Corrie also has a vision for Nature Care becoming a “school of gardening” and sees the potential of the Competency-Based Training Fund to help achieve this. “We want to be a garden school and have a dedicated training facility at Nature Care with a full time trainer that we can offer to both staff and customers. I think this fund might be the opportunity for us to get that off the ground.

With regard to the perception of gardening or horticulture as a viable career, Mr. Corrie said that NVQs will bring back credibility to the profession. “There’s a lot of competence that has to exist in this field but it’s not easy to see the skill sets required. The NVQ will help to change the image of horticulture as a less than desirable career option.”

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