Attracting young people to horticulture
By Gary Jones
Attracting New Industry Leaders
By Gary Jones
November 2017 – Time again to celebrate our fantastic “Top 10 under 40” awards program. Inside View previously looked at these new industry leaders’ traits, e.g. passionate, hard-working and innovative thinkers.
Growers in all sectors have to resolve how to attract new entrants. Recently, Julie Gilbert-Vijverberg (G&V Greenhouse Solutions), put out a letter to the U.S. industry, saying she’s “reaching out today to begin the long overdue conversation of how the greenhouse industry needs trained growers and skilled labour force from universities.”1 I’m not sure it’s new or “overdue,” as it’s been going on for as long as I’ve been part of the greenhouse industry. Specifically though, Julie calls industry to “invest in our future through our universities” and lists key skills industry seeks, including:
- “Introduction to Greenhouse Management Systems.
- “Pest Management.
- “Energy/Shading Curtains.
- “Evaluating Water Analysis and Making Recipe Changes.
- “Crop Disease and Deficiency Identification.”
Great technical skills. But at KPU, Employability Skills’ (e.g. numeracy, communication, teamwork) are also embedded in all programs. Without these, no matter how technically competent, someone is unlikely to get past (even to!) an interview.
Julie’s basic premise is that “Currently U.S. universities are operating low-tech greenhouses. When graduates are hired at facilities … they are faced with a learning curve.” Is the same true in Canada, (or Europe), where there are great training facilities for all horticulture sectors, and government investment in greenhouse research?
Attracting new entrants is not a problem limited to the U.S. Reports in Canada mirror similar concerns:
- “Availability of labour is always a concern in (B.C.’s) greenhouse veggie sector.” (Linda Delli Santi, Exec Director, BCGGA).2
- “ … the greenhouse, nursery and floriculture industry faces an expected gap of 27,000 workers in 2025.”3
New entrants also need to frame realistic expectations around salary and career progression. But minimum wage structure and long working hours mean we’re failing ourselves. We need to sell the non-financial benefits of this rewarding industry. Tap that passion identified in the ‘Top 10 Under 40.
But Julie’s question demands a response. In B.C., “The B.C. Landscape & Nursery Association has just completed Phase 1 of a Labour Market Initiative to research where job gaps are as well as skills in both agricultural horticulture and landscape sectors. This Five Phase project will investigate needs, then develop and implement strategies to recruit B.C. residents including new Canadians and refugees to the industry. The project will also look at accessing talent outside of B.C. and Canada as a way to alleviate labour and skills shortages. The next phase will take about eight months, with results that will be useful to the sectors across Canada.4”
KPU Horticulture students over 2014-16 had an average age of 30 years, were 42 per cent female and 58 per cent male. We’re seeing increased interest from younger people.
This year ‘CanWest’ organizers are introducing a Youth Tour. While targeting those already inside, this is an opportunity for students to connect with peers, industry leaders and employers. Growers, landscapers, BCLNA members are involved.
Julie argues that “We as an industry need to invest in our future through our universities.” But universities are just part of the Horticulture Inc. team, and we need to take on this task corporately. Kudos to the BCLNA and CanWest organizers. Let’s all get involved in the conversation.
- Julie Gilbert-Vijverberg, “Come together to fix the greenhouse industry education system”, HortiDaily.com.
- 2017 State of the Industry survey, Greenhouse Canada.
- Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, Nov 2016.
- Hedy Dyck, BCLNA, personal communication.
Gary Jones is co-chair of Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at Gary.Jones@kpu.ca.