February 15, 2019
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

It is humbling to reflect on the fact that Landscape Ontario is one of the largest, most vibrant, most active and well-resourced landscape/horticultural associations in the world. It is important to understand the association is not just some physical entity in Milton, Ont. Rather, it is a network of individuals who identify with collective and community values, and who share in the pride and purpose of an occupation and profession that works to enhance the lives of others.

We have attracted over 1,700 companies who represent thousands of business owners and employees who also realize they are part of a larger movement to change the world for the better and to leave a legacy of benefit. Regardless of the size of company, we all share the desire to advance the industry and make a difference.

Recently, I received an email from an LO member who took it upon himself to attract a $10,000 sponsorship for our Peer to Peer Network. We did not ask him to do this. He just decided that our collective cause to help members succeed and thrive should be supported. We enjoy the support of hundreds of members who feel the same way. The number of volunteers contributing on our various boards, sector groups and committees helps to inspire our staff.

On solid ground

Our association continues to do well financially. We are the envy of most other landscape associations in North America. Including the market value of our land, our assets total about 23 million dollars. Last year, our membership, trade show and magazine departments exceeded expectations. Our investments saw a net gain of $500,000. Being in a favourable financial position enables our association to continue its vision of a prosperous professional, ethical, recognized and valued profession.

The challenging road ahead

Despite our continued success, we have a major challenge to deal with. By far the biggest issue facing our profession is a shortage of labour. Many members cannot find employees. This crisis is a limiting factor in the growth of our sector.

A recent reader survey by our Landscape Trades magazine asked how to deal with this issue. Many of you responded with helpful information which will guide our activities going forward. Here are some responses:
  • Host basic training boot camps for youth (high school and college students) and then help them find jobs with member companies.
  • Encourage offshore workers to enter our profession.
  • Educate parents, teachers, guidance counselors and students about the career opportunities and value of our profession.
  • Encourage higher wages and benefits. Skilled landscape workers and smart, ambitious individuals will only remain in this industry if the proper income can be earned in around eight months.
  • Promote the value of an outdoor profession and the legacy it leaves to the public.
  • Raise awareness of the benefits of our occupation with the general high school population. Students won’t enter a profession they are not aware of.
  • Treat employees well and find ways to retain them for the entire year. It is difficult to sell a career in a seasonal situation.
  • Target seniors who may want to spend some of their time working in horticulture.
  • Focus on the creative and entrepreneurial benefits of the occupation, rather than the manual labour side of the profession.
  • Encourage grounds improvement and landscaping projects at elementary and high schools so young people are exposed to the value of our profession.
  • Find ways to reduce the number of hours worked. Young people do not want to work 10-hour days, six days a week.
  • Develop a recruitment and promotion strategy targeting youth. Too many young people think the job simply involves shovelling snow or mowing lawns.
  • Kids are pushed toward university, instead of trades. Provide all options (degrees in arboriculture, landscape architecture, etc.) including business ownership.
  • Create a great company culture to attract employees.
  • Increase awareness of Landscape Industry Certified program and Horticultural Apprenticeships, plus better marketing of the apprenticeship program to employees and students. Our industry is seen as an entry level job which is farthest from the truth.
  • Encourage employers to be better at human resource management. A bad experience will not stimulate retention of employees.
  • Promote the profession as a trade similar to electricians or plumbers.
  • Target high school students who need to fill volunteer hour requirements and match them with members looking for workers to get students exposed to the industry.
  • Better benefits and use more equipment to reduce the strain on the body and reduce highly-repetitive, manual work. The perception that work is VERY labour intensive and seasonal limits interest.
  • Full-time employment is a key factor in attracting employees who want a career in the horticulture industry.
  • Promote the health benefits of a career in landscape/horticulture.
  • Develop a dedicated recruiting website. Use social media, develop a YouTube channel and website to promote the benefits of a career in landscape/horticulture.

The responses were extremely helpful and will form the basis for our future workforce development plan. It underscores the amazing and engaged membership we enjoy.

On a final note, each year at our staff holiday lunch we choose one word to act as our filter for the year ahead. For 2018, our word was “listen.” For 2019, it is “renewal.” We wish you all renewal as you go forth and change the world for the better.
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tony@landscapeontario.com.