September 15, 2015
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

Finding good employees is a huge issue for our industry. This is true even for those I would consider ideal employers, who offer full-time work, above average wages, overtime and excellent benefits.

Have you ever asked why? Have you ever looked at the issue from the employees’ perspective? What can you do to improve the situation? What can Landscape Ontario do to help?

Let’s start by looking at why young people may not be attracted to this industry in the first place. My parents and grandparents were avid gardeners. Their ancestors were subsistence farmers. They learned how to till the earth from an early age. They loved growing fruits, vegetables and flowers, and without me even knowing it, their enthusiasm spread to me. Just being around family who connected with earth was enough to inspire a love of plants and gardens. What about this generation?

Urbanization and smaller parcels of available land make this the first generation in history in which most young people will not be exposed to anyone who tills the earth. How will this generation be inspired to love growing and gardening? How will they even know there is a meaningful career called horticulturist or landscape professional?

In addition, there are 70,000 landscape/horticultural jobs in Ontario and only 250 graduates from formal horticultural programs each year. This is a huge gap. It means that finding skilled employees is almost impossible. You (and Landscape Ontario) will need to take responsibility for training and inspiring the next generation of landscape professionals. Are you/we up to the challenge? Our industry’s future depends on it.    

I once attended a human resource lecture about finding and keeping good employees. At the end of one hour explaining strategies and techniques for recruitment and retention, the seminar leader summarized his talk by saying, “Look in the mirror and ask — would you work for you?” What a great question. The answer is more important.    

Inspire prospects

This industry is extremely fortunate because there is a constant flow of young college, university and high school students who are looking for spring and summer jobs exactly at the time we need them. It is your responsibility, and ours, to inspire this group of industry prospects.  Ensure they have a positive first experience. Play the role of teacher. Take the time to educate and train. Create a supportive and learning environment. Training and knowledge builds enthusiasm. Give them responsibility. Raise awareness for the educational and career opportunities that are available to them. Care. Even though they may return to their studies, you will have given them a positive and memorable experience that may lead to a fulfilling future career. We must start the mentoring process earlier.   

Over 80 high schools offer horticulture programs

Recently, Landscape Ontario hosted a meeting of horticultural educators from high schools and colleges. A Ministry of Education official was also present. We were pleased to learn there are over 80 high school that offer horticultural/green industries programs and at 26 of these schools a student can graduate with a specialist high school skills major in horticulture. In addition, most secondary schools offer a co-op program where young people are encouraged to try different trades.

What an amazing opportunity we have to tap into this valuable resource. We must be willing to look at the employment issue from a longer-term perspective and build our future one student and employee at a time. I remember Past President Phil Charal writing about his positive experience starting with co-op students, who over time became full-time employees.   

Apprenticeship is a gift to the industry

Apprenticeship is probably the single most important solution to building a healthy and prosperous industry. Sponsoring an apprentice is a way to build your business, retain employees, inspire lives and grow a healthy future for our industry. It is not difficult to do. It is inexpensive. In fact, there are employee and employer incentives.  

The best part is that the government pays the apprentice while they attend school in the winter. All you have to do is sponsor the employee and promise to provide an on-the-job training experience. The apprentice is given a skills book that you are expected to sign-off as each skill is mastered. Take the time to review the process at We are here to help any way we can.

Apprenticeship is a gift. My grandfather used to say, “If someone wants to give you a gift — take it.” Apprenticeship is a gift to you and your employee — take it.

Recently I read a book on the science of motivation. Research shows we are all motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. If this is true, what can you do in your business to create a culture that responds to the research?    

Taking the time to show your employees how our industry provides economic, environmental, health, therapeutic, lifestyle, recreational and aesthetic benefits to society will reflect our “purpose.” Making the effort to provide superior on-the-job training opportunities and enrolling employees in the apprenticeship program will reflect your commitment to “mastery.” Giving employees responsibility and providing a culture of accountability will reflect “autonomy.”  

Looking in the mirror and answering the question, “Would you work for you?” will go a long way to solving the industry’s collective problem with finding skilled employees.  
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at