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In praise of Apprenticeships – florists share their experiences

Apprenticeships serve a vital role in the training and development of our florists of the future. Many of today’s independent florists can thank the funding and mentoring offered by an apprenticeship for setting them on the path to success.

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We spoke to two florists about their experiences of the Apprenticeship Scheme.

Amanda Steele of Amanda Steele Flowers in Oakham, Rutland is a freelance florist specialising in weddings, parties and special events. She began her floristry career in the 1980s with a two-year apprenticeship at the highly respected London florist Pulbrook & Gould.

Molly Hurst has recently taken over as the owner of Peter & Margaret florist in Bolton, Lancashire, having started there six years ago as an apprentice at 18 years old!

What made you decide to do a floristry apprenticeship?

Amanda: “I’m a very creative person and knew I’d rather learn my skill on the job rather than in a classroom environment. I also found the country, organic style of Pulbrook and Gould very aesthetically pleasing back in the 1980s compared to the more typical, stiff triangle alternatives”.

Molly: “Traditional higher education and exams were not something I got along with. I tried ‘A’ Levels but after two years of struggling turned to a more hands-on approach to learning. I looked into a few different apprenticeships before floristry really caught my eye. I’ve always been creative and thought it would be something I would enjoy”.

Some potential apprentices worry about finding an employer and getting funding. Was the process of becoming an apprentice straightforward for you?

Amanda: “The process was very straightforward for me back then. I had an interview and was offered the apprenticeship. Funding was tough, they paid us £18.00 a week and my rent was £30. I tried to commute from my parents’ home outside London, but the expense was crippling so in the end my dear old dad agreed to pay my rent. This was the same for each apprentice if their family didn’t live in London”.

Molly: “I found the process incredibly straightforward as the position was already being advertised on the local apprenticeship and job listings website. It really felt like it was meant to be!”

How was your apprenticeship structured?

Amanda: My apprenticeship was two years long. We rotated around the departments, changing every two months. Planting covered outside planting for window boxes, gardens etc, customers’ own containers or planting for the shop. The decorating department did all the outside contract work, weddings, parties etc. The workroom did all the personal flowers for weddings, every arrangement that was ordered to be delivered or collected from the shop and all the funeral work. We learnt every aspect of wiring, arranging and design skills here. This was my favourite department. The despatch department wrapped everything that was to be delivered, including those awful flat lay bouquets! The Shop department was my worst! We spent a lot of time conditioning flowers, cleaning vases, decorating the windows, cleaning foliage buckets, pricing, serving customers, answering the phone, making tea, cleaning the shop! To be put on “foliage” for two months was the pits but we all did it.

Molly: “I spent most of my time hands-on in the shop, learning as I went along or when we had a quiet moment for me to practice. I mostly focused on hand-tieds and they were the first thing I learnt, picking up other techniques and styles of arrangement as I went along. Doing my apprenticeship in an Interflora shop was beneficial because at the time it was very easy to follow the product recipes that we used to have, although that’s all changed now. I did my coursework at home as more of a “homework” style thing, or at work during a session with my tutor Jane who came out from Myerscough college every few weeks”.

What do you think are the benefits to a business of taking on an apprentice?

Amanda: We, as apprentices brought huge benefits to Pulbrook & Gould. They were very strict and quite intimidating to work for, but their exacting training gave us skills that were second to none in the floristry world. In return we gave hard work and dedication, knowing we were getting some of the best training available. Many of us stayed on afterwards for several years, so I think the whole system was mutually beneficial.

Molly: “Apprenticeships are beneficial to both the learner and the business owners in my opinion. They offer a different approach to learning for those like me who don’t fancy the traditional routes of education or exams/classroom learning, and are a great way to learn a skill. For a business owner, apprentices are a low-cost staffing option and I think there’s something special about being able to pass on your skills to someone else, especially something like floristry that isn’t as widely taught”.

Were there any particular pros and cons for you as an apprentice?

Amanda: I feel I had the best possible training in a very environmentally sustainable and exclusive shop. Back in the 1980s, people spent more money than I could ever have imagined on flowers, so we worked in beautiful places all over the country with the best quality flowers. It was a privilege to be a Pulbrook & Gould apprentice. The downsides were the lack of money, long hours and just two weeks holiday a year. I also feel that I would like to have learned more about the business side of floristry. We obviously worked to a budget and had to work out costings, but I needed more! We also didn’t go to the market buying; I learned those skills by myself afterwards.

Molly: “The main pro I found of being an apprentice as opposed to college-based learning was the experience of learning in a busy environment and gaining my retail and business experience on the way, because those skills are vital. I also found it beneficial to be working alongside a group of trained florists who were all experienced and could help with anything I needed. One con I have to say is the low wage! It was worth it in the end, and I found the more experienced I got the better the pay, but the minimum wage is so low so I was lucky that I still lived at home at the time.

Would you take on an apprentice in your own business now?

Amanda: If I had a shop I would definitely take on an apprentice. Sadly, I fear it might be hard to find someone with the dedication and commitment to work every weekend, public holiday and to miss friends’ parties and weddings because you are working. I hope I’m wrong.

Molly: “At the moment I wouldn’t take on an apprentice. It takes a lot of time and attention to teach them and being a relatively busy shop and having only recently become the business owner it would be a big responsibility, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the future.

Thanks to Amanda and Molly for sharing their apprenticeship experiences with the Floristry Trade Club.


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