Training florists for the future

In Australia, the national training program for aspiring florists has followed the same curriculum for nearly a decade. 

To ensure students are prepared for the many industry changes that have occurred in that time, these educators have taken things into their own hands.

A 2019 SFN survey of over 1200 florists from around the world showed that 88% of florists believed floristry teaching methods were out of date and needed to change.  

Since then, the gap between education and industry has only increased. Workplaces around the world have shifted, often as a consequence of increasing awareness about the sustainability issues associated with floristry. Many businesses are putting people and planet up there with profit. Today there are almost 150K uses of the hashtags #sustainablefloristry and 234K for #nofloralfoam on Instagram. 

So why are formal floristry education programs so slow to adapt? In part, it’s a consequence of the time and processes involved with getting alternative design products to market. It is also a reflection of the challenges and hard work involved in making change happen at an institutional level. 

 

Today there are almost 150K uses of the hashtags #sustainablefloristry and 234K for #nofloralfoam.

Anne Maree Montague, Renae monument and Myhanh Rutledge serve as advisors to the SFN and played an influential role in developing the Foundation in Sustainable Floristry Course.

Melbourne Polytechnic going beyond 

Australian educators and SFN Expert Advisors Myhanh Rutledge, Anne Maree Montague and Renae Monument from Melbourne Polytechnic are going their own way. 

To stay on top of what’s going on, all teachers still work within industry to some extent.

So alongside the national training package – which sets out the curriculum they are required to deliver – the trio are teaching students about industry change wherever they can.

As Myhanh explains, updates to the training package in Australia have been stymied by a review and endorsement framework that is slow to respond to industry change. Also, a lack of regulation is an obstacle on multiple fronts — there are no licencing requirements for florists as there are for other trades. And floristry is not considered a priority compared to industries with occupational health and safety issues, such as healthcare, building, childcare, aged-care and hospitality.

Additionally, because the floristry training package in Australia is delivered nationally, it needs to accommodate all Australian states, regions (rural/city), business styles and models (bricks and mortar, kiosk, studio, warehouse, events). This makes achieving a best practice model hard as individual business can be biased towards their own requirements and practices. 

 

Eco-friendly design techniques are taught alongside the main curriculum.

Extra-curricular at Melbourne Polytechnic

Where possible, learning and teaching activities and assessments at Melbourne Polytechnic are directed toward sustainability.

At the top of the trio’s wish-list is the removal of floral foam from design and seeing the introduction of a core unit for sustainable development — one that is specifically designed for the floristry industry. 

“We want our graduates to be prepared and job ready when floral foam is banned,” says Myhanh. “We also want our graduates to become industry leaders in sustainable floristry practices and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals and global citizenship.”

Currently the college’s curriculum includes the unit ‘Participate in Sustainable Workplace Practices’ as an elective. This generic sustainability unit is led by Anne Maree and covers foundational knowledge around sustainability. The team have adapted it to the floristry industry as much as possible. 

“Because of our compulsory requirements, adding the additional units can be a challenge as we first need to cover all 21 required units which make up the Certificate III Floristry,” explains Anne Maree. “So we run these as extra-curricular classes”. 

In the extra-curricular classes, the team also cover current trends and techniques, which the students find really inspiring. They explore sustainable practices such as reusing and repurposing horticultural materials and sundries, stock rotation and wastage control. Learning activities embed sustainable floristry considerations into assessment – for example, designing and quoting on an event for a sustainability-conscious client.  

The teaching team works closely with the campus grounds committee to utilise any pruning materials in the practical classes.

The floristry department benefits from having a horticulture department on campus.

The teaching team works closely with the campus grounds committee to utilise any pruning materials in the practical classes.

“The students love working within the leafy and beautiful grounds of the campus, using the garden materials and being connected to horticulture. It also really helps us as teachers to demonstrate seasonality and the importance of being aware of what the changing seasons bring,” explains Anne Maree.

Industry connection is maintained with visits from industry leaders who are invited to give talks, demonstrate floristry techniques and inspire students to develop new skills and expand their creativity.

Industry leaders are invited to give talks and demonstrations.

Floral foam

Floral foam is likely to remain in the national training package until it is banned as its use is still so embedded in the industry. Unfortunately, the package guidelines fail to provide any handling and disposal information for these products.

Floral foam is currently not banned in Australia because its unique composition and structure causes it to fall between the regulatory gaps. However, the National Plastics Plan does list regulation of similar plastics as a top-priority issue.

To tackle the foam issue, the team have reduced the number of items which contain floral foam. Instead, they encourage using other base mediums such as chicken wire (which is reused or repurposed), working directly into a container, and transitioning to more eco-friendly floral foam alternatives like Sideau rockwool, OshunPouch and others.

The team reports that students respond very favourably to alternative design techniques.  On the downside, students report that they are frustrated by being assessed on outdated floristry items e.g. shoulder spray and bridie holder. These are items which many students have never heard of or been exposed to in their past or current places of work.

Melbourne Polytechnic students participate in exhibitions and shows. Here a wide selection of materials foraged from the campus grounds are supplemented by commercially grown winter blooms.

Future focus

“Both industry and students fail to understand that it is not up to us what goes in the training package!” Myhanh says. As a registered training organisation, the team is required to deliver what is prescribed. 

In the short-term, the trio will welcome having input into the next training package review and seeing more input from a diverse representation of industry. If they had their way, there would be much more flexibility in the unit, ‘Construct floristry products with a base medium’.  This unit explicitly specifies the use of floral foam, bouquet holders and polystyrene as the base medium. This should be changed to ‘may use floral foam’ – with other base mediums an option.  

“The role of educators should be to replicate training to industry practices and prepare learners to operate across all floristry business types including businesses which use or don’t use floral foam,” says Myhanh. 

“We believe work placement should be a requirement within the training. We also need industry to understand the content that is being delivered in education and get on board when reviews are taking place.”

Melbourne Polytechnic students participate in exhibitions and shows.

Sustainability is explored through the creative use of different botanical materials.