How do we keep working in horticulture enjoyable?

November 22, 2022

In the greenhouses of the future, simple, repetitive tasks will be performed by robots. We’re not there yet: these developments are happening step by step. In the coming decades, employees will be working in an environment that is increasingly robotised, mechanised and digitalised. How can greenhouse horticulture – a sector already having trouble finding employees – ensure that enough people want to work in and around greenhouses?

The Business Unit Greenhouse Horticulture and Flower Bulbs of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) is starting the Joyride Horticulture project, in which researchers look to improve working conditions for employees in the primary process. These are mainly migrant workers.

Migrant workers in the primary process

Much of the labour in the primary process of greenhouse horticulture companies is carried out by migrant workers, who are increasingly older and hail from further afield. They work in a warm and humid environment. Contact with colleagues is decreasing: with data application, employees are assessed more and more on personal performance, leaving less room for mutual contact; and as machines have taken over part of the logistics operations, the employees are also less mobile. In addition, their tasks and activities are becoming increasingly short-cycled. All this contributes to greenhouse horticultural work becoming less and less attractive to the migrant worker population the sector so desperately needs.

Solutions and products for greenhouse horticulture

In the recently started Joyride Horticulture PPP-project, WUR set up 6 ‘Personas’ in horticulture with the goal to develop them into concrete solutions and products.

  • In 'The Cool Worker', WUR is looking for ways to make working in the greenhouse less hot, for example through adapted clothing, active ventilation and local cooling and shade.
  • In 'The Ambient Worker' it is all about using digital techniques to support the employee in his or her work, for example through video instructions and direct feedback on the task quality performance from intelligent systems and machines.
  • The path 'The Social Worker' explores contact with colleagues and coaching management: how can an employee keep in touch with colleagues during work using a screen and headphones, for example?
  • 'The Team Worker' looks at the cohesion within a team in the workplace. How can they feel more involved with each other? Examples include running their department as a mini-company and monitoring performance as a team.
  • 'The Safe Worker' is about physical health and safety: such as fitness and injury-free work.
  • Finally, 'The Cobot Worker' delves into the future of work: what will workplaces, task planning and internal transport look like if part of the work is done by robots?

Joyride Horticulture carries out a number of 'socio-technical experiments': the different paths will be explored together with, among others, greenhouse horticultural entrepreneurs and their employees (who are addressed in their native language). The aim is to ensure that horticulture remains an attractive employer, including through greater appreciation for employees.