More young people are choosing horticulture
October 21, 2015 By Gary Jones
We again celebrate our industry’s brightest “youngsters” in this issue. Hats off to all. We’re fortunate to even be considering a “Top 10 Under 40.” I salute you all.
Thank you for choosing horticulture – for not being lured to other careers that may pay more or be more “highly regarded.” Hmmm. Thank you for doing what you’re passionate about and for choosing to make a difference to the community of which you’re all a crucial part.
It is a privilege to work in post-secondary horticultural education. It has its own reward being able to see first-hand, people come fresh into the industry, perhaps straight from school, or after working for a few years before deciding what to settle into, or perhaps changing careers mid-life. We see a significant number of entrants to horticulture after an already long career in the catering industry, for example.
It’s particularly fun to be part of KPU School of Horticulture “Information Sessions” where we bring together educators, recent alumni, employers and those trying to decide if this is the career for them.
There is always a high level of energy and excitement, similar to the feeling of optimism just after planting each year’s new crop of greenhouse veggies: “This is going to be the year.”
But Western nations have for years had challenges attracting new blood into horticulture. An example would be the demise of specialized horticultural schools in the Netherlands. Likewise, the U.K. has faced similar issues and many reports have been commissioned to figure out what to do.
It’s always fantastic to see a new generation taking over businesses from parents. But it’s also vital to bring in new ideas, new ways of thinking and new enthusiasm from outside.
A few weeks ago, I visited a recent grad in his new “assistant grower” position at a very large greenhouse, and it was thrilling to see his passion, excitement and hope for a long and rewarding career. He feels he has already been able to make a difference by being a fresh pair of eyes looking at production problems.
How do we attract more young people into the industry? I don’t have the answer (or answers – as it’s unlikely to be one “silver bullet”).
But perhaps looking at our exceptional group of “Top 10 Under 40” offers some insights. One characteristic of each of our nominees is their commitment to work hard. I see this as an increasingly rare trait in the classroom. But that doesn’t mean we should “water down” our expectations – indeed, we should set the bar high and demand that of newcomers to prepare them for their horticultural future.
Passion for what they do is also evident in all our winners. Perhaps that’s a requirement to get into the industry, but curiously, it’s also one of the rewards. I visit many alumni who tell me they get immense job satisfaction from what they are doing. Getting up each morning and wanting to go to work is “priceless” these days.
We also need society to recognize that professionals produce our food. And we must appreciate those people for the real value of their skills. In Cuba, farmers are considered more important to society than lawyers, accountants and doctors.
I’ve noticed that young entrants, particularly in the food production sector, increasingly want to run their own businesses rather than work for large corporations.
Attendee demographics at workshops on local food production demonstrate where young people are heading. A recent “Young Agrarians” event at KPU was a huge success, practically filling our large auditorium. We need to showcase ways of making the industry accessible. This is easier said than done, given land prices such as here in B.C., but initiatives like the “Young Agrarians Land-Link” must surely help.
Nonetheless, 2015 has been an encouraging year. Job ads for key positions in large businesses across many sectors have been posted more frequently. Perhaps this reflects how hard it is for employers to find the right people, but it also clearly shows that there are lots of opportunities for new entrants to be the “Top 10 Under 40” in a decade’s time.
Gary Jones is co-chair of horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, B.C. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at Gary.Jones@kpu.ca.
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