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Inside View: Learning in a post-COVID world


July 7, 2020
By Gary Jones

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It’s time again to celebrate our ‘Top 4 Under 40’ – recognizing the best and the brightest in greenhouse horticulture. ‘Inside View’ previously looked at some of the virtues of these new industry leaders, who are invariably seen as being passionate, hard-working and innovative thinkers. At the other end of the career timeline, for those who’ve been in the industry somewhat longer, these industry stalwarts often demonstrate other great character traits: “Collaborative. Untiring. Tenacious. These are some of the adjectives that Brian Gilroy, president, Canadian Horticultural Council used to describe the four award winners at the 98th annual general meeting in Ottawa [March11].”1

All of these are soft skills – not something that can be taught really. Encouraged, nurtured, developed, yes, for sure. But not really ‘taught’, unless instilled by parents at a young age. When you’re hiring, you probably interview and ask questions to explore if an applicant demonstrates these skills that will help new employees ‘fit in’ and add value to your workplace. You’ll also probably be asking some questions to identify essential technical skills and workplace knowledge; those things that can typically be taught and learned.

We’re moving toward a ‘Post-COVID’ workplace. Or at the very least, a ‘managed COVID’ workplace. Likely a very different workplace. For new industry entrants, there may well be much less hands-on practical training in formal settings with class sizes of 20, 30, 40 students possibly unlikely. Schools and post-secondaries are having much discussion about ‘synchronous’ and ‘asynchronous’ online or distance delivery of instruction. And why not. After all, I bet you’ve all had something to do that you’ve not done before – fix that ‘thingy-mu-bob’ on the car, figure out some awkward piece of plumbing, do something on your computer or on your smart phone – and often times the first thing you do is check out YouTube for a six-minute clip that tells and shows you everything you need to know. Sometimes, these clips are great and are just what you need. Often times, they miss out on that one vital piece of information that would have made all the difference to how easy the job should have been. Or highlight that you just don’t have that one special tool needed. No matter how good though, they are often not as good as being shown in person by the mechanic, plumber or IT guru.

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Last fall, I decided it was time I learned to do something completely different to my ‘norm’ to try to keep the grey matter working. So I picked up a musical instrument and joined a small beginners’ band. It’s great fun. It’s also really difficult. Really, really difficult. But the learning is made easier by having the teacher say ‘no, you need to adjust your fingers like this’, and then physically leaning in to adjust the way I hold the instrument. Being part of a physical group is also great for motivation and encouragement. The teacher works hard at making us practise during the week, as long as we practise correctly. I used to think that ‘practice makes perfect’, but she tells us that “practice makes permanent”2. She’s right – it’s really hard to change a bad habit, even after just a few weeks.

I’m not saying that distance or online learning is totally bad. There are some great situations where it is fabulous. But as I ponder the next generation of ‘Top 4 Under 40’ growers, I wonder how they are best going to learn, and just as importantly practise, the technical skills required, say, to twist a tomato plant, harvest a gerbera flower or accurately space out potted crops on a bench.

It goes without saying that our latest crop of winners (and all the nominees) have all kinds of technical and soft skills in abundance. Likely learned hands-on from other people and practised (with adjustments) for years. In this new age of ‘Teams’, ‘Zoom’ and ‘Moodle’ remote learning, I wonder what the hands-on people connection is going to look like for our industry training. I think it’s going to need more, not less, connection and commitment to learning. To all the Top 4 Under 40’s, I hope you’re ready to do your bit of mentoring.

  1. Karen Davidson, “Long-time leaders are honoured”, The Grower, April 2020.
  2. Geeta Das, personal communication.

Gary Jones is a faculty member in the School of Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, BC. He sits on several industry committees and welcomes comments at Gary.Jones@kpu.ca.