While much has been documented and discussed regarding the shortage of laborers for the landscape industry, there is another shortage that concerns me even more: the shortage of skilled, educated people to take up management positions.
To me, it’s primarily an issue of career awareness, or lack thereof. Although not nearly as many as 30 years ago, there are still young people who have a good work ethic and enjoy being outside. But we cannot seem to attract enough of them to our program here at Lake City Community College.
That’s a shame, because we receive more job offers than we have candidates. In landscape and turf equipment, I could place three times the number of students we’re able to recruit. Starting salaries from all programs are in the $25-$35k range, with career potential of $50k to over $100k depending on the program and where the student accepts a job.
I have very strong industry support and a great faculty team. Really, I have everything one could ask for—except for enough students to meet industry demand. Many industry organizations such as PLANET and various state associations have worked hard to address the gross lack of understanding regarding a rewarding career in the green industry. But after several years of a truly valiant effort, the situation is still not satisfactory.
We need a “call to action” to get more leading landscape contractors working this issue at the local level—getting involved with area high schools to make students and counselors more aware of the opportunities in this wonderful industry.
WHAT CONTRACTORS CAN DO
High school career awareness program
Call your local high school(s) to talk to a student counselor, ag teacher and/or auto-mechanic teacher. Strike up an open line of communication with them.
Offer to pick students up at the school and take them to a jobsite for a field trip, rather than just go to a high school career day in a gymnasium. We are selling beauty, and the best way to convey that is to have students see and smell what landscapers do.
Imagine having the students at the site of a $500,000 landscape installation, or even a $5,000-per-month maintenance account. For many, this is beyond their comprehension. Tell them, and show them, everything you did and do at that site. Trust me, they will have a “wow” moment—and these few minutes in the field will do more than an hour-long presentation would do.
Discuss career opportunities, salaries, and the type of people you’re looking for to become leaders in your company.
Communicate the need for students with good academics, attitudes and work ethic. Take counselors to lunch—make them feel good about you and your company.
Develop a part-time work program
Introduce high school students to your company and the different roles your employees play. Be sure to have students spend time with your best managers to get a taste of what being a leader is all about.
Again, look for students with good attitudes and work ethic.
Evaluate your student workers and offer to provide scholarships to those who show promise, sending them to a local post-secondary school that offers the training you need your recruits to have. This will help you groom employees while they gain training and experience, and keep them after they graduate.
Having some sort of partnership with your area’s post-secondary school is crucial. Maybe you already have one, which is great. But again, it’s not enough. Fixing this industry’s labor shortage is going to take a grassroots effort—and contractors like you can play an active role in it.
John R. Piersol
Director – Golf/Landscape/Forestry
Lake City Community College
149 SE College Place
Lake City, FL 32025