August 15, 2008

By Shane Jones
Landscape teacher, Bendale B.T.I., Toronto

There are two ingredients required to operate a successful business. The first is the client, someone who will pay for the service or skill that you provide. The other ingredient is the employee. These are the people who will help you provide the service or skill that you are selling. If you’re not working with a client, most of your time is spent trying to find that next job. So much effort is put into looking for work, that we tend to neglect the important process to find the right person for the job.

Hiring is tough

I recently left the landscape industry to teach horticulture at Bendale B.T.I., a high school in Scarborough. I may not be slugging away in the trenches anymore, but I still remember how much energy is put into hiring and training. Then you finally find someone who doesn’t show up on the second day, quitting without even a phone call. We try to filter those out at the interview stage, but it’s been my experience that some of the best and worst people I’ve worked with were the opposite of my initial impression. Almost always, the biggest problem is that the new employee is not prepared for the job. We all understand this. Landscaping is hard work. You must enjoy doing it to be successful. How do we ensure that an applicant understands how tiring, dirty and sweaty the job can be, yet despite this, will actually enjoy doing it?

Rarely do people search out unfamiliar careers. This is definitely true of today’s high school student. Students are asked to pick their careers at a very young age. And, you can bet that the kid who wants to be a landscaper is probably the child of a landscaper.

Landscape companies need to be more involved to help promote the industry in their local high schools. Most high schools don’t have a horticulture program. In fact, the high school I attended as a student had only one shop. It provided a little bit of everything: metal fabrication, carpentry, welding and so on. Even though my father is a carpenter, I didn’t see the trades as a strong career choice. I worked at the local greenhouse, then Bruce Jensen Nurseries, only because I needed a pay cheque and not because I loved horticulture. It wasn’t until years later, after I went to art college, that I realized how much I missed landscaping.

Tap into schools

Getting involved with a local school isn’t difficult. Contact the school to ask about its career day, or help an interested teacher to develop a school greening day. During the slower times, you might even want to help start a garden club. Landscape Ontario has developed an Adopt a High School program that outlines exactly how you can help. All this will help students become more aware of the landscape industry and see it as a possible career. Talk with the students about all of great things that horticulture and landscaping has to offer. You might be speaking to your next designer, foreperson, or greenhouse manager.

Steps for teachers

If you’re a teacher reading this article, then encourage the local landscape companies to get involved with your school, even if you don’t have a horticulture program. The horticulture program at Bendale B.T.I. has been adopted by Hank Deenen Landscaping. The students have been involved in projects, including Canada Blooms.

If we are going to further our trade, then we need to attract enthusiastic, dedicated people. Our future landscapers are sitting in high school classrooms. You put a lot of time and money into promotions and display gardens to find your next client. Finding your next employee doesn’t take nearly as much effort.

Caption: Bendale students helped build planters for Canada Blooms.