What is Happening to the Green Industry?

by Robert W. Pollock, Jr., Landscape Architect

I realize I graduated from Stockbridge School of Agriculture many years ago (1967) my graduating class was 230 graduates out of some 400+ students. In May 2019 I went back to visit my Alma-Mata and found that the Stockbridge School office is in the next thing close to a cloths closet and that there were only 30 students graduating in the class of 2019. Programs have been dropped and enrollment is dropping. Barely 30 new students for the next freshman class.

We have all read that similar issues are happening at the Thompson school. Enrollment is down and programs are being dropped. What is happing to the agricultural/horticultural programs? What is happening to college in general? If this trend continues the trained work force replacements in the Green Industry, for us that are retiring, will be hard to find in the future. Those so-called landscapers who have little training or education in the landscape industry will see the gap and landscapes could become of lesser quality.
Here are the issues as I perceive them:

  1. All of us in the Green Industry are so focused on our careers and work, we do not take the time to reach out and encourage the next generation to explore the creative and satisfying career of landscape design and working with plant materials.
  2. The birth rate is dropping to the point that, in the United States, that the rate is below the replacement rate of those who have passed away or have reached retirement age.
  3. In 2017 US birthrate has dipped to a 30 year Low. In the next 18 years every institution of higher education will be scrapping for every student that they can get. These institutions may have to re-think how they attract students to learn in the fields of horticulture and landscape design. Some of the programs will have to be restructured maybe with more hands-on learning, better opportunities for apprenticeships, and make higher education affordable.
  4. Today’s high school graduates are recognizing that “vocational” occupations are financially more lucrative, they can get on-the-job training, get paid while being trained and not have debt at the end of the training period. In many cases they can earn as much if not more than a person with a typical four-year college education.
  5. With the computer age, high school students get instant gratification seeking out answers to questions and work results. By providing apprenticeships in the industry the need for instant gratification is fullfilled.

What needs to be done to sustain interest in the Green Industry? I do not have all the answers but here are some suggestions.

  1. Make it a point to at least once a month make public presentations to your local Rotary, Kiwanis clubs, or try and get into your local High School and meet with school college or career councilors and through power points or written materials explain what you do. Today’s students are environmentally conscious, your presentations should demonstrate how the Green Industry is fulfilling that need. As an example, Roberts Nurseries and Landscape company has been working with Maple Street school in Hopkinton to introduce horticulture to the students. The program has grown expeditiously.
  2. Provide apprenticeship opportunities for students, start off at a base pay with an incentive for a pay increase in 4-6 months provided that the student shows improvement in skills. A contract should be created that outlines the expectations, ie being to work on time, being present every day, and learning skills of the trade. Many employees complain that the students today are irresponsible in not dedicated to their jobs. This may be partly the employer’s approach. Students really respect a coach and will respond to coaching. They have a difficult time responding to boss type orders. Those of you who coach teams outside of work, you should try to transfer the coaching skills to on the job opportunities. You will have better employees and will have dedicated employees.
  3. Have conversations with your clients. If you do a great job for your client, they may have children, grandchildren, or neighbors’ kids that are interested in what you do. If the opportunity arrives have the student shadow you for a day or two while on job.
  4. Provide an incentive to continue their education, financial help with an agreement that they work for you for an agreed upon number of years that you benefit from their learned skills.
  5. Support your institutions of higher education by recommending that employees take a class at Thompson School or NHTI Concord to learn new landscape skills. With out these two schools there will be no landscape or horticultural programs in the State of New Hampshire.

“Horticulture is an important industry in New Hampshire. It is made up of over 800 businesses who sell, install, and care for landscape plants (trees, shrubs, perennials) green house crops/flowers and turfgrass. The value of this Green Industry exceeds $522 million each year in sales of products and services.” (From https://extension.unh.edu/programs/landscape-installation-maintenance.

If we all don’t get on the advocacy “bandwagon” and find ways to introduce the Green Industry to the future generation there will be the potential of a major impact on our own industry and the economy of the State of New Hampshire. Advocating for any of the Green Industry opportunities is the responsibility of all of ua, not just your Association officers.

What are you going to do today to advocate for the landscape profession in New Hampshire?