A Day In The Life Of Young Nigel

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A country lane in Texas.

My Life As An Apprentice At A Garden Centre

When I left school at 16, I was offered a chance to work for a well-known local garden centre on a three year apprenticeship scheme. I had the choice of either going to college and learning garden design, or working, learning, and earning at a large garden centre in the West Midlands of the UK.

After much thought, I decided on having a go at the apprenticeship scheme, which was something the garden centre had just started, and would mean that I could achieve my NVQ Level 1 and 2 in Retail Management. It was a good qualification to get before moving on to study Horticulture professionally.

I had been working for the garden centre before the apprenticeship, first doing a work experience program at the age of 14, which I enjoyed, then going on to work weekends as a trolley boy at 15 (it was before the minimum age limit was out). I did enjoy this and knew a little about how the garden centre was run by my weeks work experience.

It was September 1997, and my first day as an official apprentice was scary and frightening. There was also another girl who was taking on the apprenticeship scheme, and we first had a whole day of inductions, health and safety regulations, and the do's and dont's of the garden centre. I knew much of it already but didn't mind sitting through it again to refresh my memory. We both didn't have the high GCSE grades that were set for the scheme, so we did a month of voluntary work within the garden centre to gain experience which qualified us for the apprenticeship scheme.

After day one, it was into the real world of working in all the departments of the garden centre, spending about a month in each, working to a timetable set by our training organizer and manager.

Then, at the start of October, it was our first trip down to the Head Office, to meet our college tutor and the woman who was in charge of the training organizers at the other eight garden centres of the country, who were undertaking the apprenticeship scheme in their centres.
It was very scary and frightening for me because this was the first time of being away from home for a couple of days without my parents.

Every garden centre allocated a manager to train up as an NVQ Assessor, mainly because our college was down in Suffolk and the tutor there, who was an NVQ Assessor, could only visit the apprentices at each centre on a two to three monthly basis. Our NVQ Assessor at our garden centre drove us both down to the head office for the two days induction course, which our assessor also had to go to, but on a separate conference.

We hit the road by 6.00 am, and after a stop for a toasted teacake and cup of tea, made it for 10.00 am, ready for the course to begin at 10.30 am.

We met the other six, who were mainly young ladies, except a lad from Oxford, who was about two years older than me at the time.

We had a tour of the massive building and I was impressed with the information technology room, where there were many computers and other alien-looking machines, bleeping at every angle. We were told about each operations room, which was very interesting, before going back to the conference room for a coffee and biscuit (no cakes though). We also met the top people who were in charge of the whole constabulary; it was nice to put a name to the face.

I went to the toilet which was quite a way off our conference room, and I got a bit lost on the way back. I walked round and round following corridors and stairways but it was no good, I had to go into one of the offices and ask how to get back. I crept in and explained to a lady that I was lost and couldn't find my way back to the conference room. She was very nice and took me back, opening the door where all the other apprentices and tutors were waiting to begin. The lady said 'I've just brought Nigel back, he got lost,'. Well, everybody laughed and I went bright red.

After getting over my initial embarrassment, we were all handed two massive files full of paperwork needed for our apprenticeship. We were then introduced properly to our tutors of our assigned college, and our head training officer. We then had to go around the group, introducing ourselves, which I found very difficult, being the first time I had ever done this before.

We were then told what was happening over the next couple of days and then started going through our folders, the tutor explaining all about the course and what is needed to gain the qualification, which was complicated at the time but easier when at home, reading through it at my leisure until it sank in.

After lunch the same day, we were put together in twos to do some kind of role play technique which I have never liked. I was put with a young lady from another centre, which I forget which one now. Anyway, she put up her hand and told the Training Manager Officer that she couldn't work with me because she couldn't understand my English accent! I felt very embarrassed and she was told to do her best, which we both had to do.

Before the day finished, we met up with our NVQ Assessors from our garden centres and went for a drive around the massive fields where they grew the bare-root trees for lifting in the autumn time. I have never seen so many trees in all my life, and they seemed to go on and on forever, all in neat rows.
After having a good look and almost getting the cars stuck in the mud, we headed off to book in at our hotel for the night.

The hotel was very posh, with a swimming room, golf course and room for a pony! We all booked in and I was sharing with the lad from Oxford, which was a disappointment, I had hoped to get a room with one of the young ladies! After settling in, we were told to meet downstairs for 6.30pm, to go out for a meal in one of the local village restaurants.

The restaurant was small but had a very nice atmosphere; I enjoyed my steak and chips very much. I always remember the car park at the back which was so dark, we had a job to find the car afterwards!

We got back to the hotel at about 8.00pm and had a couple of hours free to sit in the bar and relax, phone our parents or partners, before going up to our rooms for some sleep for the night.

However, when I went to bed, I found that my swipe card wouldn't work in the hotel room door to open it, and ending up knocking, but no answer from my room mate. Eventually, I ended up going downstairs and asking reception to find another card for me to let me in!

I was kept awake by my room mate who was on his mobile phone until about 1am talking to friends and family. Eventually though I got to sleep and was woken at 7am by an early morning wake-up call.

My roommate had his shower etc and I was just going into the bathroom when the electric all went off. Apparently there was a power cut and electricity wouldn't be on for a few hours. Keeping my legs crossed, I went down for breakfast which was very romantic, by candle light.

I enjoyed the full English breakfast, a few of the NVQ Assessors coming down late and looking very rough, obviously too much alcohol the night before. I couldn't drink, only being 16 at the time, but I didn't miss it much and even now I very rarely drink alcohol. It never interested me much and with the tablets I'm on too, they won't agree with alcohol.

After a rather romantic breakfast, we went off back to the head office for another day of lectures and information for our course.

We finished at about 3.30 pm and had the long journey home to be back with our families and partners late evening.

Over the next 12 months or so after going on the course, I worked hard in achieving my marks and keeping up to date with the daily diaries etc we had to do.

I worked in all departments, had some good and very rough times but after much hard work and commitment, managed to achieve my NVQ Level 1 and 2 in Retail Management in September 2000, which I was very proud of and will treasure.

My NVQ Assessor also passed his exams and did a great job in assessing me and spending time going through and marking my work, not to mention the help and support he gave to me.

We had to get some of the sections signed off by our tutor at the college in Suffolk. She was finding it difficult to visit every centre every couple of months, so they hired in a private tutor from Oxford who came every couple of weeks, and pushed me very hard, which was the only way to get it finished and achieve my qualification in the three years that were allocated.

After achieving the qualification, I went on to study Horticulture in the outside plant area and going on many different courses around the country which I enjoyed driving to, seeing different places and new and interesting things.

I achieved my Horticultural qualifications, then went on to be a supervisor, before having to retire due to ill health.

I worked at the garden centre for over 11 years and learnt and achieved a lot, going through good and bad times with many sleepless nights.

It was good life experience though, which is what made me today.

Nigel's Gardening Hints and Tips


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