October 15, 2015
It’s time to bring industry and educators together
During Cultivate and Connect at Congress 2015, students on a panel presented insightful comments to the industry.
By Michael Pascoe
Fanshawe College

Over 20 years ago, I remember walking through Congress, a newly hired Fanshawe College faculty and seeing a few other colleges with displays showcasing their programs. While walking through the aisles, I said to a long-term faculty member, why aren’t we here? His response to this day still mystifies me: “why would we be here?”

Take any company at Congress: Willowbrook and NVK (Connon) that produce nursery stock, or Oaks and Unilock, that manufacture concrete materials. If their products don’t meet your requirements, are you going to buy them? They are all long-term companies; Willowbrook has been in business for 36 years, while NVK has served the industry for 109.

Why are they so successful? We might think they are innovative, progressive, unique, forward thinking. We could apply a host of other related business adjectives to describe them. I am sure all of those apply, but the simple answer comes down to what they produce. They grow or manufacture products you want, plain and simple.

I am the first to admit that a disconnect exists between education and industry. However, education is no different than Willowbrook, NVK, Oaks or Unilock, or any other landscape supplier or service company. Educational institutions produce a product, a graduate, and it must meet the needs of the market; it must meet your needs!

Industry has a powerful voice influencing and directing what happens in our schools, colleges and universities through advisory and review panels. It also happens through events, such as our chapter meetings, Thrive, Landscape Congress and Canada Blooms.

High schools are doing a great job of connecting with industry. They garner local support through their green industry and Specialist High Skills Major programs. Apprenticeship, driven by industry advisory panels and the production of industry-driven curriculum, does this, although uptake by employers is always in question. Colleges and universities through program reviews, new program starts and events, such as Congress and Canada Blooms, also offer an opportunity to connect with industry.

So why is there an educational and industry ‘drift’?

Educators can and often do lead a monastic existence, burrowed deep in the halls of academia, tucked away from industry. As long as the programs are full, the institutions are happy and we can go home knowing that we are doing our job.

How then do we break through these walls and tap into a resource and develop the product of our educational institutions, which is the ideal employee for the future. It is going to take leadership to connect the two. Both need to re-discover each other, to understand that students today are different, and that employers’ expectations have changed dramatically from 20 and even 10 years ago. There are more jobs available than there are graduates. Companies should cultivate relationships with potential employees, while educational institutions need to connect with industry so that both partners in the relationship are working towards a common goal.

The Cultivate and Connect Conference in January was the first step in that connection. If you missed the student panel members talking to industry, you missed what I believe to be one of the most insightful events this year.  

A quote by one of the student panelists has been making the rounds. It was first published in Jason Bouwman’s blog, Two Cents Worth, and later republished in Tony DiGiovanni’s column in Landscape Ontario magazine. It referenced Jeremy Kamp, a recent graduate of horticulture apprenticeship, who said, “Realize that life is work and work is hard. Once you get that, you can move forward, get busy and make things happen.”

That philosophy was echoed by the other panelists like Morwyn Griffith, a recent horticulture diploma graduate who talked about her passion for the green industry. This poised and confident individual is going to be an industry leader one day. She will be a Sally Harvey of the new industry.

Charlie Briggs, a horticulture degree graduate, presented that solid, reliable confidence that companies find in employees twice his age. He is an individual who quietly works behind the lines to build the industry — a Rene Thiebaud of the future.

Cultivate and Connect will be there building those bridges and knocking down those walls. Will you be the Alan White, Jay Murray and Paul Doornbos of the world, or any of the other 100 attendees who left Cultivate and Connect with a promise of what youth in our industry has to offer? Or will we all continue down the same path and face the critical labour shortage with a degree of trepidation and bewilderment?

Cultivate and Connect, now a national program under the CNLA banner, will soon launch the Green Careers Canada at Congress 2016. This one-stop website for students, industry, educators and parents, who want to discover the green industry, will be national in scope and engaging to all. We will continue to knock down those walls of academia and provide opportunities for the industry to Cultivate and Connect with the youth; the product of our educational institutions who could be your next employee.