Thanks to her grandparents giving her small plant cuttings and seed packets, Caitlin Clineff grew up gardening a good bit. In high school, she was very involved with 4-H and the National Junior Horticultural Association.
“That got me interested in looking into a career in horticulture, so I majored in horticultural science at NC State,” Clineff says. “I wasn’t really sure what direction I wanted to go in, but I did my internship at Duke Gardens. I was really interested in doing something in public gardens or botanical gardens.”
After graduating in 2014, she got a temporary job at Dumbarton Oakes Garden in Washington D.C., but they weren’t able to afford another full-time position.
“It was just such a fantastic experience, but I had a lot of trouble finding a full-time job in public gardens,” Clineff says. “So, I ended up going into landscaping instead.”
She worked in Washington as a designer, a project manager and other roles for a small company. Her second job was working as a horticultural consultant for a firm in Arlington, Virginia.
“Basically, I worked in between contractors and property managers and helped oversee the landscaping contracts and I would be the point of contact for different projects,” she says. “Meet the crews onsite and make sure everything’s done correctly.”
Eventually, she moved back to North Carolina and was recruited by Myatt Landscaping, based in Fuquay Varina, North Carolina. Clineff is now Myatt’s recruiting specialist and company ambassador.
She says she wouldn’t have considered going into an HR position before but after talking to the recruiter and Myatt’s owner she decided to give it a try. She says it’s very different from what she’d done before.
“It’s been really interesting, and I’ve learned a lot of new skills in this position,” Clineff says. “I have been able to keep in touch with my roots a little bit through very occasional design work and developing training materials for the crews on things like how to prune properly, how to identify different insects in the landscape and things like that.”
Myatt brought Clineff on to help with recruiting and she says it was a little daunting as it’s something she’d never done before or had any formal training in. She says she had to immediately start trying to make some changes.
“I really had to jump in, get my hands dirty and try a lot of things and expect that not everything was going to work,” Clineff says.
One of the first things Clineff did was go through and change the job descriptions of their postings online to be more descriptive of their company and culture. She says they made a lot of small changes such as revamping their referral program and making sure everything is in English and Spanish, as they have a lot of Spanish-speaking employees.
“We try to make everyone feel more comfortable and more like they’re an important part of the company,” Clineff says. “I started an internal newsletter to share promotions and employees who’ve gotten certifications and birthdays and all those kinds of things so that everyone in the company could feel a little bit more connected.”
Clineff’s efforts over her three years with the company have paid off as their yearly retention rate has gone from 68.7 percent to 76.6 percent. Meanwhile, their yearly turnover has gone from 130.5 percent to 42.1 percent.
Clineff says her biggest mentor in the industry has been Jenn Myers, senior director of workforce development for NALP.
“She has been really supportive and encouraging and just always been there if I had a tough day or had questions about anything that I wanted to talk to somebody,” Clineff says. “She has been extremely helpful to me and just very supportive.”
Her favorite part about working in the industry is having a career that connects her to the outdoors.
“Even though I’m working in the office now, just knowing what our company does for people and helping our clients be able to enjoy their outdoor spaces, especially these days when people are so disconnected from nature,” Clineff says. “I feel like we’re helping people reconnect with nature a little bit.”
Clineff wishes the general public understood there’s more to the industry than cutting grass.
“The general public has this idea that it’s not technical, it’s not scientific, there’s no right way to do it,” Clineff says. “They think that you’re just cutting the grass and using the loud, annoying leaf blowers. They don’t know how much really goes into proper care and maintenance of a landscape, and how much management that requires.”
In five years, Clineff says she’d love to see herself in a director role where she has a team and is overseeing other people. As for how she’d like to see the industry change, Clineff says she’d like to see the industry become more diverse and more inclusive.
“The inclusivity has to come first because it’s not going to become more diverse if people don’t feel welcome,” Clineff says. “I hope that we can see a lot more women. I know that it’s growing, it’s increasing but there are a lot of fundamental changes that need to happen before it can really be a welcoming and comfortable space for a lot of people. And I hope that those changes continue to be made.”
An example of one of the changes Clineff says that still needs to be made is more schedule flexibility for working moms.
“I know a lot of companies have pretty strict start times in the morning and it makes it really challenging if parents are trying to figure out who drops off the kids at school,” Clineff says.
Clineff is currently on the Women in Landscape Network advisory board and is hoping they can help make changes so that women will be more encouraged to join the industry. She says she’d tell other women considering entering the industry that it can be a really great and rewarding career.
“You do have to prove yourself and stick up for yourself,” she says. “You have to be prepared to stand up for what you believe in and ask for what you deserve.”