How I Do It: Environmental Enhancements Plants Seeds with The Next Generation - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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How I Do It: Environmental Enhancements Plants Seeds with The Next Generation

Photo: Environmental Enhancements, Inc.

The future of the industry is high schoolers and Carmen Kesteven, HR manager for Environmental Enhancements, Inc., based in Sterling, Virginia, has made it her mission to educate them on the landscape industry.

“If we don’t educate them, if you don’t let them know that the current opportunities that we have in the landscape industry, they don’t know,” Kesteven says. “It’s a lot of education. It’s a lot of patience.”

Kesteven says when she started working for Environmental Enhancements, owner Fred Peratt was looking for a way to connect with high schoolers because he is always looking for innovation and understands they are the future. She admits she wasn’t outgoing at the time but she had to learn and started knocking on doors.

For a while, people ignored her efforts but she kept pushing.

“From the time that I started to talk to them seriously, which was in 2014, I really didn’t hit a home run until the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017,” Kesteven says.

Photo: Environmental Enhancements, Inc.

The Academies of Loudoun, a magnet school focused on STEM education with a large horticulture department, ended up inviting her to speak to a couple of classes. She also got in touch with the director of the counselors for Loudon County and shared with them the importance of and the opportunities in the landscape industry.

Now, Kesteven attends between five and eight career fairs at the high school level each year. She says in all the years she’s attended these career fairs, she’s only seen one other landscape company exhibit aside from their business. Kesteven has developed relationships with the schools where she’s invited to all the different career fairs now.

She says she loves talking about the industry with students and asking about their future plans.

“I want to know who they are,” Kesteven says. “I want to listen to them. I want to hear about their plans, their dreams. You see so much in these kids and it’s unfortunate that we don’t use that to motivate them because there are a lot of kids who don’t really know what they want to do.”

With her display, she shows them beautiful landscapes and helps them understand how many people are needed to create and maintain them. She says most students she talks to are unaware of the job opportunities in the industry. Kesteven says they are most interested in the fact they can have a career without having to go to college.

“The high schoolers are the future,” Kesteven says. “We need to work with them to show them there is a career opportunity for them in the landscape industry. They don’t have to go to the universities. They don’t have to go to college. We have plenty of certifications.”

Many students are also excited to learn about the company’s environmental efforts, such as transitioning to electric equipment and using organic treatments.  

Photo: Environmental Enhancements, Inc.

Kesteven also talks to parents and educates them on how landscaping is a good-paying career, as many believe it’s just hard, dirty work for low pay.

“The fact that they listen to you, they give you the time, if I’m planting a little seed in their heads, I’m happy with that,” Kesteven says.

She says she tries to focus on schools with a high percentage of Hispanic students because often their parents work two or three jobs, and they don’t know what they want to do after graduating.

“You have the right to be successful,” Kesteven says. “Even if you don’t go to college or university, know that you have these opportunities. You can start here, you can grow, move to the next position to the next position and the next position. There are a lot of certifications in the industry that can give you a career and make you feel proud of the things that you have accomplished.”

Environmental Enhancements also participates in Loudon County’s ‘Job for a Day’ program where students come in and shadow different employees out in the field. While the company has only had one student become an employee, Kesteven says it’s still important to educate students on the industry.

“Why do we have to concentrate on ourselves?” Kesteven says. “We have to be creative and we have to be open for anything and everything that comes. The more you push, the better it is going to get.”

Kesteven encourages other landscape companies to figure out which schools they want to focus on, put your name out there and let them know you’re willing to help with anything they need.

Kesteven is retiring this year and she says her work building relationships with the local high school is her legacy.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.