Colorado State University understands that to reach the next generation, they must educate them about the career opportunities in the landscape industry early on. That is why the CSU Landscape Design and Contracting program and the CSU Extension hosted the inaugural Green Industry Field Day on May 2 this year.
“The industry that we work in is super exciting, creative and rewarding; we wanted to share that with the next generation,” says Chris Tragakes, Landscape Design and Contracting program coordinator for the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at CSU. “Recruitment at any level does not happen overnight and nor is it free, it takes a lot of time and effort, so it was perfect to start engaging with high school students, from freshmen to seniors, in the Northern Colorado area.”
Over 250 northern Colorado high schoolers and teachers attended this free event to learn about all of the broad career pathways in the industry. Tragakes used various connections with Ag/CTE teachers, work-based learning coordinators, and also contacted any teachers that might have interested students, from science teachers to counselors and even people on administration teams. They even had a few home-school families attend the event.
Students and teachers had the opportunity to pot plants, sit in equipment, learn about Colorado plants, and even see various styles of robotic mowers.
“We chose stations to help represent all of the broad aspects of the industry, along with input from companies,” Tragakes says. “We had representation from landscape management, design/build, suppliers, plant healthcare, irrigation and even robotic mowing manufacturers. Some stations were more set up in the demo style and some were more of a hands-on workshop experience. We then held a career fair after lunch as well, where students were able to collect some cool gear from companies to even some students receiving job offers.”
Over 40 volunteers, including CSU students and extension agents, helped with the event and over 30 companies and associations also showed their support through funding and having hands-on events. Designscapes Colorado, based in Centennial, Colorado, hosted a landscape design workshop where students could learn about basic design and rendering techniques. Phil Steinhauer, CEO of Designscapes Colorado, says he was surprised by the level of interest as they had a full room for both sessions.
“What we did is we tried to highlight the process of putting together a plan while we were actually putting together a plan,” Steinhauer says. “So we had made a rough template and put markers and pencils and drawing pens on everybody’s station.”
Each student left the workshop with a landscape drawing they had drawn, colored and labeled.
“I think they liked the hands-on approach and walking away with something,” Steinhauer says. “You know how it is if you’re just sitting there, if I was just demonstrating drawing. People would be looking at their phones. We didn’t see any of that. Everybody had their heads down drawing.”
Steinhauer says it was an easy decision to get involved with the field day. He says they are always invested in creating clearer pathways for students.
“I would encourage everybody to get involved,” Steinhauer says. “We’re all struggling to find good people. There are great careers, and there are high-paying jobs. You can do sales. You can do account management. You can do estimating. You can do retail. It’s going to take everyone in our industry to really change the perception that the green industry is a great place where you can find a long-term career.”
After talking to teachers after the event, Tragakes says many students were asking about how to find jobs in the industry and wanted to make sure they attended future field trips hosted by CSU.
“I have even had some students request tours of our new building, wanting to learn more about our program,” Tragakes says. “They have brought their parents along, and the parents are consistently impressed with their students’ enthusiasm for the industry already. Oftentimes parents are a harder sell on the industry than the students. But when parents see the professionalism and opportunity within the green industry they are blown away.”
This year’s event was planned over the span of roughly four months, but Tragakes hopes to allow for more planning time in the future.
“Our goal next year is to shift the event to central Colorado and engage with more urban and city students,” Tragakes says. “The goal is to then rotate the event around, to allow different companies and schools to explore the green industry.”
For other states considering hosting an event like this for their students, Tragakes encourages starting early and asking companies for help and support.
“Also, reach out to the CSU Landscape Design and Contracting team, we are all on the same team and eager to grow, support and lead the industry,” he says.