Let’s face it: As a result of the lack of knowledge available to people about the landscape industry and the career potential within, its image is tainted. This is particularly true with younger generations.
“Students and parents think it’s a dirty job and that you don’t make any money in landscaping; we just have this stigma, if you will,” explains Callan Dudley, accounting/human resources coordinator, Southern Landscape Group, Evington, Virginia.
But the landscape industry has an opportunity here. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials (ages 20 to 35 as of 2016 data) will surpass baby boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation in 2019, and generation Xers (ages 36 to 51 in 2016) will surpass them by 2028.
While the market for workers is competitive, this proves availability isn’t the single source of the landscape industry’s labor crisis. People are available; they just aren’t applying for landscape jobs.
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t list landscaping specifically as an occupational group in its data, most related fields are projecting increases. The agency reports that by 2022 building and grounds maintenance occupations will increase 12.5 percent; construction occupations will increase 21.4 percent; installation, maintenance and repair occupations will increase 9.5 percent; and farming and forestry occupations will decrease 3.4 percent.
Landscape business owners can solve this problem by continuing to educate younger generations on the many jobs and opportunities the industry provides. Southern Landscape Group is doing just that using two strategies: creating landscape industry awareness locally and partnering with local educational institutions.
Recruiting Strategies #1: Create landscape industry awareness locally at the high school level
Southern Landscape Group is trying to solve this problem by partnering with a local technical center to provide a paid short course for high school students.
In 2017, the four-day short course ran from 8:30 to 1:30 each day. Students provided their own lunches and transportation and they received hands-on experience working with difference crews and crew leaders. For instance, students installed large brick planters and two paver patios, as well as turf and mulch, on the technical center grounds. They also got to use a variety of heavy machinery. Each morning started in a classroom where crews shared tips on the upcoming tasks for the day as well as safety standards. At the end of the course, parents were invited to attend an awards ceremony that flaunted and honored students’ work.
In 2017, Southern Landscape Group had room for 12 students; 11 signed up and 10 participated. Of that group, six students became company interns and one became a full-time employee that is still working there today. In 2018, the company switched the venue of the short course to its own office; eight signed up and four actually completed the course. Two became company interns in the summer, and another one of the students from 2017 became a Southern Landscape Group employee after high school graduation. “These students who took the short course became the most engaged interns we’ve ever had, and now we have two new employees as a result,” Dudley explains, describing the course as successful so far for helping spread the word about local landscape industry opportunities to high school students and providing the company with two solid hires.
Recruiting Strategies #2: Provide value by partnering with local educational institutions
According to a recent College and Career Readiness survey of 165,000 high school students, fewer than half feel they’re ready for college and careers. Only 46 percent feel their schools have helped them figure out which careers match their interests and abilities.
“Teachers are so focused on the testing they must conduct that they have no time to focus on life skills,” Dudley says.
To help teachers fill this void, Dudley partnered with local educators to have herself or another Southern Landscape Group representative present in the classroom once a month for the past year to teach 100 to 120 children various things from resume building to interviewing skills to workplace personality styles to teamwork and the importance of communication.
“At first, I wasn’t sure it was making an impact,” Dudley says. “Then I was out shopping and ran into a girl from one of my classes and her mother came up to me with tears in her eyes saying how much of an impact I’m making on her daughter and her friends and how much they talk about the tips I’m sharing. Then I notice the questions they ask in class. One girl asked about what she should wear to pick up an application or to interview and another asked why companies do drug testing. They were genuinely interested in these answers and really didn’t understand some of the basics that we’ve all grown up learning about when it comes to job interviews.”
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