A Love For Plants
Alan Tan is a Horticulturist and Assistant Director at NParks, and he says that “NParks is an option that I would highly recommend to fresh graduates who aspire to a great career in an organization that offers them a wide and interesting scope of work, many opportunities to grow and develop themselves, and also enables them to appreciate the beauty of plants and nature at the same time.”
Alan, you’ve been with NParks for 17 years now. Tell us about how your career as a Horticulturist has grown since you first started out as a research officer?
I joined NParks right after my National Service, and started by taking care of plants in the nursery. Looking back, I am grateful that NParks saw the potential in me and gave me the chance to join them. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if working here was what I really wanted to do, but gradually, I realized that I had a passion for plants and really enjoyed my work everyday.
What’s it like being a Horticulturist?
Here at the Botanic Gardens, Horticulturists essentially take care of the plants – this entails going on rounds in the morning to inspect the plants and ensure that they are healthy and in good condition. We also have to check for pests and diseases and plan schedules for giving fertilizers to the plants.
Good management skills are also important as we supervise a team of workers who carry out maintenance duties like watering the plants, for example. As representatives of NParks at the Botanic Gardens, we also address queries about plants from visitors and ensure that they have a pleasant experience on their visits.
As such, we must be knowledgeable about plants and also have good interpersonal skills to interact with people.
Is it difficult to get qualified people who want to work in the landscape industry?
Yes, we do face a labour shortage in the landscape industry at times as many Singaporeans aren’t that keen to work outdoors.
These days, the salary packages and benefits that NParks offers can be considered very attractive, but it is still a case of attracting qualified people who are passionate about nature and keen to work in this industry, and this is where the challenge lies.
NParks has also recently set up CUGE – Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology, to provide diploma and advanced diploma programs for people who wish to equip themselves with the necessary skills to work in the landscape industry. This is a key part in our drive to attract more people to join NParks.
You recently led a team to participate at the prestigious 19th World Orchid Conference in Miami, Florida, USA, and won the top award for International Display. That must have been a proud moment for you, wasn’t it?
Yes, it definitely was. I created a garden display called “Orchids in Harmony”, that expressed Singapore’s strong affinity with orchids. It was a 50 metre square display that was a modern Asian interpretation of the courtyard garden, and celebrated the diversity of multicultural Singapore. In the display, I used tropical orchids with their many rich colours and dazzling array of forms and sizes, to portray the different races of Singapore.
It was really hard work preparing the display. My team and I had to set up ten days before the Conference. We also did everything ourselves as there were no contract workers involved. That’s why it was really worth our efforts when we won the top award for best international display, and I was close to tears as I was both happy and relieved at the same time.
Do you enjoy working at NParks?
I love working here as we are all like a big family. NParks has a great culture of empowering its employees, taking care of their needs and constantly strives to maintain an excellent work-life balance.
That is why joining NParks is an option that I would highly recommend to fresh graduates who aspire to a great career in an organization that offers them a wide and interesting scope of work, many opportunities to grow and develop themselves, and also enables them to appreciate the beauty of plants and nature at the same time.
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