In this era of labor shortages within the lawn and landscape industry, many companies are looking to connect with students before they make their career choices. Traditionally, that has meant working with local colleges. But LandCare has found that connecting with high schools may be even more impactful. After all, there are many students who may be planning to go to college who are seeking a profitable trade to pursue. These are ideal students to reach as landscape pros promote the landscape profession.
Mark Hopkins, regional vice president of LandCare, says his company has been so committed to building relationships at the high school level that they’ve recently created a position within the company that is solely focused on this specialized recruitment effort. Though LandCare has 50 locations in 20 different states, the effort began in Texas by identifying high schools that had some sort of agricultural component. Hopkins says this was a great starting point and got them pointed in the right direction. Though they’d anticipated that would primarily mean going through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), it has also meant looking at the 4-H channel.
“What we quickly learned was that most schools didn’t have a clue about our industry or what we do as a profession,” shares Hopkins.
“In fact, even within schools that have agricultural programs, we did not find any teachers who had much knowledge about the commercial landscape industry.”
Promote the Landscape Profession: Uncovering Some Surprises
Hopkins says they stumbled upon some other interesting findings, as well. While they anticipated that most of these programs would solicit students from farming families, they found a good majority of the kids participating in agricultural programs or clubs were from the inner city and had no farming background whatsoever. It was also surprising that more than half of the students were female. This knowledge is helping them tailor their message to the right audience.
Hopkins says they also uncovered that the Federal Government is viewing agricultural programs as STEM programs—and they’re often getting heavily funded. Unfortunately, a lot of schools don’t have the resources to use these funds appropriately.
“We were coming across schools that had received a lot of funding. They had built elaborate greenhouses, rooftop gardens and even composting facilities. But most of them didn’t know how to use them,” Hopkins says. “This provided an opportunity for us to provide resources for them and connect them with the right people. In turn, we’ve also been able to raise a lot of awareness about our business and what we do. We’re finding opportunities to speak to students and teachers. We want to let them know that the landscape industry is a viable career path. Most of them had no idea you could make a good living doing this.”
Promote the Landscape Profession: Structuring a Program
While internships make sense for college students who have flexible schedules and can gain college credit for the work, Hopkins says they quickly learned that “job shadowing opportunities” were more useful for high school students. These one- or two-day, hands-on experiences give high school kids the opportunity to see what it’s like to work in the landscaping industry.
“It’s important to recognize that when you target high school students, you’re going to get a lot of parental involvement,” Hopkins says. “Think of it as having a dual audience for your message. You have to win them over on behalf of their child. And we also found many of the parents are even potential hires. Their kids are sharing the opportunities we’re educating them about. And then there is interest potentially from the parents.”
Promote the Landscape Profession: Getting Started
Other landscape companies interested in targeting high school students as potential hires can follow a similar path, Hopkins suggests. That means identifying schools that have some type of agricultural component, which is likely receiving funding from the government. As Hopkins found, many of these schools are looking for resources and knowledge in these areas. It’s a great door opener.
Although LandCare created a position dedicated to this effort, he says anyone who handles recruiting/hiring could take on this task.
“We are a very large company. Also, we have a unique situation. We had an employee who worked as a high school agriculture teacher before coming here,” Hopkins explains. “That made him a natural fit to connect with these schools. But it’s something that any company could take on.”
Hopkins says there is a great need to get information about our industry out to young people.
“The biggest takeaway from what we’ve learned is: The vast majority of people do not understand this industry. They don’t even realize there are career opportunities that might be a great fit for them,” he says. “I would urge other landscape companies to start getting the message out within their own communities.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The landscape industry is experiencing a workforce crisis. No amount of action from any individual company will solve this problem. It is time for industry professionals to work together to identify solutions to this crippling challenge. Attend the Workforce Summit, March 1-3 in Alexandria, Virginia to learn more.