Green Industry Jobs

In the 70’s I worked in landscaping and half of the crews were made up of high school kids and college students. Ultimately, a number of them became the owners and senior operators of the landscape businesses that are now dominating our industry. Fast forward a few decades: as these people are now reaching retirement age they are trying to turn their business over to family members, with mixed success. A related topic problem that we talk about often, is the problem of finding good laborers*, in the Green Industry, construction industry, and other trades as well. It seems that people do not understand that Green Industry jobs hold many benefits.

It has become crystal clear to me that young people are not joining our industry. I teach at Clark State and have watched the class size diminish for many years. All trade schools have struggled to get students. Why is this? And, how can we change this and attract young people?

Benefits of Trade Jobs

One of the biggest reasons that young people stay away from landscape trades is that they are not viewed as good career choices – not by high school students, nor high school counselors, or parents. A recent survey by ForConstructionPros.com asked students about their perceptions of college careers compared to trade school careers. Young Americans (18 to 24) view attending trade school and the construction trades as a low pay, low security, and low opportunity careers. Students were asked which of these attributes are advantages for trade schools and trade careers:

ForConstructionPros - Survey - job opportunities in the green industry
– from forconstructionpros.com

Less debt: Only 27% of students thought they will accumulate less student loan debt. However, trades schools average 25% the cost of a 4-year college.

Specialized training: A mere 24% of students understood that they would receive specialized education. That means we need to let the remaining 76% know that trade schools teach knowledge not readily learned elsewhere.

Getting a Job Sooner: 21% of students recognized that learning a trade will get them into a job sooner. This means that 79% of students do not realize they can enter the job-market sooner after a 2-year trade program, instead of a 4 or 5-year college program.

Job Security: Only 16% of students believed that trades provide job security. That means 84% don’t know that trade jobs are exceptionally secure.

Access to high paying jobs: 11% of students had this correct. Indeed, college graduates earn on average $11,000 more per year than trade school grads.

Missed Opportunities

The survey indicates many sad stories and missed opportunities. It talks about high school students who believe they have to go to college or otherwise they will be ‘left behind’. They fear they will earn less money or have less job satisfaction without a college degree. Often high school students don’t understand why they should go to college. Many don’t even know what they want to study. The full survey at Bigrentz.com shows that thirty percent of students are going to college because “that’s what you do after high school”.  23% of students said they feel pressured and are expected to go to college.

What is not being told to students is that many successful entrepreneurs or business leaders started with no formal education. The construction trades offer an amazingly fast advancement: learning your trade and doing good work means a quick opportunity to move up in position or start your own company. In addition, there are many specialty Green Industry jobs, such as lighting specialists, irrigation designers, drainage experts or water feature specialists.

A large percentage of college graduates end up working in a career other than what they hold a degree in. Or they realize after a number of years that they are in the wrong career, but they have a pile of student loan debt to pay off. What can be made clear to students, is that they can enter a trade without a college or trade school education and learn on the job, which would eliminate education debt altogether. Alternately, if after a few years they decide to go to a college or trade school, they will have a better understanding. Because at that point, they would have a good foundation with work experience.

A Case for Trade School

job opportunities in the green industry & Trade school benefits - BigRentz.com
Trade School Survey – bigrentz.com

It appears our industry has the important challenge to educate students, high school counselors, and parents about Green Industry jobs. The survey numbers show that we can make a tremendous case for our industry. However, it is not just the students that need to understand. In addition, we must reach out to schools and educate them as well. A high school counselor told me that if students don’t know what career to choose, she simply recommends they become a teacher. This shows she did not even consider a trade school – we must let them know about the need for solid trade workers. Last but not least, parents need to be educated and shown that the Green Industry offers more than “a summer job”.

Here are convincing arguments that we can use with students, schools, and parents:

  • The surprising fact that 27% of trade school grads earn more money than college grads
  • The fact that trade school grads are 21% more likely to work in their field of study
  • Trade graduates have a 4% higher employment rate.

Trade Programs

There are hands-on ways to reach and teach our young people. The survey mentions that after being educated about the building trades, 41% of students say they would choose a trade school and trade job.

job opportunities in the green industry - The Ohio Landscape Olympics organized by ONLA.org
The Ohio Landscape Olympics organized by ONLA.org

A vehicle showing great promise in teaching the trade is the Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association (ONLA) and its Ohio Landscape Olympics program (OHLO). Every fall, teams of high school students compete in hands-on events designed by industry professionals. OHLO broadens the high school education experience and introduces students to Green Industry jobs.  Now offered for three years, the program has grown every year and is touching hundreds of teachers, students, and parents alike. I am proud to say that Wolf Creek has been a sponsor of this important and fun Olympics program.

I would recommend to students, parents, and teachers to visit your local career center. Also, you can check with your state trade associations to learn about trade programs in your area. And of course, you can search Google for results as well for trade programs in your state.

Where are the young people? Well, they are wondering about their future and don’t know what they are going to do. Students do not know about Green Industry jobs. We owe it to ourselves to fill this void by supporting OHLO and other school-based programs. Once they understand how good it can be to work in a trade position, young people are willing to join us.

~ Read more about Labor Productivity

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