April 15, 2009, Rantoul, IL — The U.S. economy may have softened, but high school and college graduates in many agricultural fields are finding jobs. Horticulture is one area, specifically, where students say they are able to create or find positions right now.
“One of my best students graduated last year and started a business in landscaping. He has been doing very well. He picked up quite a bit of business over the last year,” says Brian Clement, landscape and design management instructor for the Technology Center of DuPage in Addison, Ill. “We see many older people, too, enrolling in college classes and getting a second degree in landscape because there are so many job openings. Others are going on to two- and four-year college programs to further their education.”
Business has indeed been steady, confirms Clement’s student, Lenin Campos. Campos went into business with his father to create Campos and Sons Landscaping in the greater Chicago area. He was a student at the centre during his last two years of high school.
“For our business, the economic recession has not had much of an impact. We are adding customers for 2009, including landscape maintenance accounts,” says the lifelong Hanover Park resident. “I liked the idea of working for myself. My dad worked landscape, and I liked going to jobs with him growing up. School helps teach you the things you need to succeed, and building a business gives me a chance to do what I like.”
“More than 30,000 high school students statewide are enrolled in agriculture classes today, including horticulture, which has more than doubled in the last decade,” adds Jay Runner, Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education (FCAE) coordinator. “Of the total number of agriculture students statewide, about 35 per cent are female, 88 per cent are non-farm residents and 10 percent are minority students.”
But even with more students enrolled in agriculture in Illinois, James Young, sales manager with Hummert International, a St. Louis-based commercial distributor of horticultural supplies and equipment, says his company often has a hard time finding people with the right degrees and experience in horticulture.
Hummert International is not alone, either. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report released in 2005 estimated that there would not be enough qualified graduates to fill 52,000 annual employment opportunities in agriculture between 2005 and 2010. “While some horticulture companies are taking a cautious approach to the current economic situation, at least for the time being, the long term outlook for top-quality workers with a background in horticulture is solid,” says Young.
Nathan Holland has not had a hard time finding employment. Holland, who grew up on a farm near rural Sandoval in the southern part of the state, has chosen a more urban slant to his agriculture career path. Holland earned an associate’s degree from Southwestern Illinois College in horticulture with a specialization in turf management. He now attends Southern Illinois University at Carbondale as a plant and soil science major with a specialization in turf management. He recently got a job at Rend Lake Golf Course.
“I had to interview the manager at the course for a class assignment. Rend Lake is one of the top five public courses in Illinois,” says Holland. “During the interview, I asked the manager if he was hiring, and got a job on the spot. I think my background in horticulture and experience at a local golf course in high school helped get me hired.”
Holland predicts the versatility of a horticulture degree will come in handy in the future. “With a degree in horticulture, you get an overview of many different parts of the field, from hardscaping to turf management to plant science,” he says. “That background gives you well-rounded knowledge that can help you find other jobs in the field.”
Holland is also considering teaching agricultural education at the high school or community college level. More students like Holland are needed, says Runner. Student interest in agricultural education is increasing, but a shortage of teachers continues. Since 1992, the number of positions for teachers has surpassed the number of graduates.
If the movement continues, agricultural education teachers will remain in high demand. Young sees a growing, long-term trend for jobs in and around cities for horticulture, including turf management, landscaping, environmental sustainability and more.
“It’s a good fit for urban students, who come from areas that need more green space,” he says. “Students learn skills that can help them excel. It’s not just about cutting grass. They can be artists with a blank canvas, and that delivers a lot of self-satisfaction.”
Runner agrees, noting that satisfying careers in horticulture are but one area of agriculture with growing opportunities. “Agriculture offers diverse and professional positions that include those in business, law, communications and many technical areas,” he says. “Even in a tough economy, agricultures is a personally and financially rewarding field.”
The statewide agricultural education team includes the Illinois Leadership Council for Agricultural Education (ILCAE), the Illinois Committee for Agricultural Education (ICAE), Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), Illinois FFA and its associated groups, Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers (IAVAT), Illinois Association Community College Agriculture Instructors (IACCAI), University Council, Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom and FCAE. The team works to help ensure a successful social, economical and environmental future for the state with K-adult education programs in support of Illinois’ largest industry, agriculture. For more information, visit www.agriculturaleducation.org .