Steve Potter - A journey
from disaster to delivery

Steve Potter is steeped in landscaping. "I've been active in the sector since I was 22," says the 58-year-old, "mainly as a sub-contractor working for larger companies."


Over the years, he built up his Wisteria Landscapes business, successfully running a dedicated team of operatives - until the fateful day when he suffered an accident at work that ended his hands-on involvement.


The setback only served as a spur to reignite his career, however - just in a different direction. "I moved into training ten years ago and never looked back," he recalls, "serving the landscaping, construction and agriculture sectors, focusing mainly on operator health and safety."


Another fateful day - a chat on the Lantra stand six years ago at the then Institute of Groundsmanship show - brought Steve into the national awarding body's fold, to the point where he has played a key role in helping it develop the Lantra Awards Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Occupational Work Supervision Qualifications.


Due for launch this September, the qualifications aim to provide nationally recognised certification for those who have responsibility for supervising work or are looking to progress into occupational work supervision in the landscape industries.


They are designed for Learners looking to develop their knowledge, understanding and skills in occupational work supervision, allowing them to demonstrate their competence to supervise work safely, effectively and efficiently, reducing unnecessary risks to themselves and others.


Working closely with Trainers/Assessors Will Taylor, Chris Murphy and Lantra's Qualification Manager Emma Green, Steve has helped formulate the diploma material, which will offer pathways in:


  • Landscape and maintenance;
  • Arboriculture;
  • Amenity horticulture;
  • Pesticides and pest control ;
  • Countryside management;
  • Ecology and environmental management.


"The NVQ will be required learning," he states, "as the sectors it targets lack supervisory qualifications currently." It will also add to other courses out there such as the Site Safety Scheme run by the Construction Industry Training Board [CITB] and the ROLO Health, Safety and Environmental Awareness assessed course offered through the British Association of Landscape Industries' [BALI]."


Learners will be able to complete the NVQ within one or two years, Steve predicts, demonstrating "a level of competence in skills, ability, training and experience".


In a wider context, "it will create new career paths for landscaping professionals, enabling young people to enter the sector with the prospect to move up to managerial level.


"Supervisors play such a critical role within an organisation," Steve continues. "They have to keep everybody happy, both around them and further up management.


"People may be good on the talks and keen to move up but the only training they receive in developing supervisory skills is from their peers - there is no certification that recognises them for what they are, mini assistant managers essentially.


The diploma will embrace on-the-job training and course attendance, before Lantra Assessors come on site for final judgment. "Recognition of prior learning will apply for Learners demonstrating relevant skills and experience," Steve confirms.


Health and Safety forms an important element of the qualification, Steve states. "It's a matter of identifying that everything on site is working but H&S is a little hit and miss in some landscaping companies," he notes.


"The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) doesn't recognise the landscape sector currently and no statistics exist on sector accidents because of underfunding, in contrast to agriculture and construction for example.


But in completing the NVQ, Learners can progress towards gaining the LISS/CSCS [Landbased Industry Skills Scheme] Gold Supervisory Card, issued by BALI - proof that they hold the appropriate training and qualifications for the job they do on site."


This qualification will become extremely important as the industry moves towards the end of the industry accreditation route by December 2024.


In his role as Lantra Assessor and Verifier, Steve technically verifies new Assessors coming on board, passing on his knowledge to help them in their positions.


His journey since his work accident is populated with a string of health and safety qualifications that make him a leader in the field. "I studied three different classes of NEBOSH," he explains, "General, which I completed seven years ago, Construction, four years ago and, most recently, Environmental, completed three years ago. Qualifications underline and recognise your ability to do things safely and efficiently.


"Membership of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is also an important part in keeping abreast of trends and regulations," he adds.


Returning to a pivotal point in his life, Steve reflects on the impact his workplace accident had on his career development. "Serious injury is a catalyst to creating a positive from something catastrophic. When a medical specialist gave me the news, it was a dark, dark day, but it drove me to become a Trainer."


His firm belief now is that qualifications such as the new Level 3 NVQ will instil that same feeling of pride in the new era of budding landscape professionals as they move into the sector as well as formally recognising the skills of those already working at this level.


"What we're trying to do is help develop a career course that young people can see is open to them while they are still at school or college, and that being certified in supervision can lead them on to becoming a contracts manager and beyond."  


Steve feels privileged to have played his part in what he believes will be a transformative qualification. "I'm very grateful to have worked with such a great organisation as Lantra, whose key consideration is to get the Learner trained.


"Sometimes you can have too many cooks, but I collaborated within what was the perfect team - we worked so well together and I'd gladly do so again.


"The Level 3 NVQ represents a sea change in supervisory education, I believe."