Cool careers in the conservation and horticulture industries


    As the effects of climate change become more widespread, managing and protecting the natural world has never been more important. 

    The horticulture and conservation industries are made up of a wide variety of roles that work directly with the natural environment. If you enjoy being outdoors and working with plants, and have a passion for protecting the environment, then these industries might be for you. 

    We spoke to conservation and ecosystem management lecturer Liz Penter, and lecturer in horticulture specialising in irrigation Neil Marriott, from South Metropolitan TAFE’s Murdoch campus to find out everything you need to know about pursuing a career in these growing industries.

    Industry structure 

    The horticulture and conservation industries can be divided into two main areas: the horticulture sector; and the conservation and land management sector. These two distinct fields work with the natural world in different ways.

    TAFE Lecturer Neil smiling, standing in front of trees

    Neil defines horticulture as the cultivation of plants.

    “Plants might be cultivated for production, for food, flowers, fibre and medicinal purposes or for amenity*, for public or private gardens.” he says. (*Growing plants for recreational or ornamental purposes.) 

    While the field of horticulture is diverse and offers many varied roles, Neil outlines some of the common tasks that a job in horticulture may involve. 

    “On any given day in a horticultural workplace, you may be propagating plants, pruning plants, fertilising plants, harvesting fruit or flowers, controlling pests, diseases or weeds.” he says. 

    “You may also find yourself operating, maintaining or installing irrigation systems. Depending on which sector of horticulture that you head into, you may also find yourself providing care to grass or turf areas, including mowing, fertilising and renovating.” 

    In comparison, Liz defines conservation as the “the preservation, protection and management of our natural areas.” 

    A conservationist might care for native habitats, restore vegetation, manage threatened species, and develop sustainable bushland management practices.

    A growing industry 

    The world is beginning to recognise the importance of nature, both in the wild and in urban spaces. 

    Liz states that this has introduced several exciting career opportunities. “Increased awareness and obligation to protect and preserve the natural areas that we have left has led to a steady incline in job opportunities and job diversity across Australia, and also globally.” she says.

    Liz also highlights the need for conservation in Western Australia (WA). “We have some of the most biologically rich areas in the world, which need ongoing protection and management.” 

    The horticulture industry is similarly experiencing quick growth, as Neil explains. “In WA, there are employers in the production and amenity horticulture industries who are desperate for workers.” he says. According to Neil, the industry’s rapid development means the demand for professionals with technical skills is beginning to grow. “Food production is one of the biggest growth areas in the world. This part of the industry requires people who are innovative and technically savvy.” 

    “More food production will be moved into protected cropping structures, potentially using hydroponic growing techniques, and will rely on automation. This will require people with good technical skills, who are capable of managing inputs to minimise cost of production and environmental impacts of production.” 

    Similarly, the amenity sector of the horticulture industry is also experiencing growth. 

    “People are more interested and invested in their outdoor spaces, while managers of parks and gardens continue to look for interesting ways in which to innovate and develop these spaces.” says Neil. “Again, the pressure on resources will dictate that people with technical skill and knowledge and the ability to conserve resources will remain in demand in this sector of the horticulture industry.” 

    Cool careers 

    Conservation and horticulture are diverse industries and there’s a wide variety of roles available. 

    According to Liz, conservation graduates may find themselves working for native plant nurseries, environmental weed control, catchment groups, the mining industry, local government, government agencies and environmental management companies. 

    Whether you’re caring for Australia’s unique plants and wildlife, identifying flora at the Western Australian Herbarium(opens in a new tab), growing native species, or working for mine companies or as a ranger, “there is a diverse range of job opportunities waiting out there for you.” she says.

    In the horticulture industry, career opportunities are just as diverse. There’s the chance to become a landscape gardener, nursery hand, landscape supervisor, greenkeeper, irrigation horticulturist or researcher. 

    Neil says that many organisations are eager to employ people with horticulture qualifications. These include garden maintenance companies, landscape construction companies, nurseries, shire councils, botanic gardens, zoological gardens, turf management companies, private gardens, irrigation companies, schools and farms. 

    Getting qualified 

    According to Liz, students interested in pursuing a career in conservation should look for courses that offer plenty of practical experience. 

    “It’s likely that your first job in the industry will be field work, so this is a really important component of the course.” she says. For this reason, she recommends that students choose a campus with bushland if they can. “Students can then learn first hand the values, threats and management principles of working in and looking after bushland.” 

    Liz also emphasises the importance of narrowing down your chosen field. “Conservation and land management is a very specialised area, so if this is the industry you wish to work in then focus on that qualification for your studies.” 

    At TAFE International Western Australia (TIWA) you can study the following courses.

    Conservation and ecosystem management


    For future horticulture students, Neil recommends researching the local industry first. That way, you can make sure that the course you’re completing is going to teach you the skills your industry requires. 

    And finally, here are a few more tips from Neil.

    1. Be prepared to work hard and get dirty. Horticulture isn’t a clean job a lot of the time.
    2. Be open to new things. The world of plants and soils is a source of continual fascination.
    3. Be curious. If you’re curious, you will learn as much as you are willing to take on board.

    If you’re interested in finding out more, you can contact TIWA for advice(opens in a new tab) on how to navigate your study and career journey.

    Last updated on December 5, 2022