A group of area landscaping and horticulture professionals told Franklin County Technical School students recently that education, motivation and a strong work ethic are the ingredients to success in the field.
FCTS landscaping and horticulture instructors Mark Amstein and Kurt Richardson organized the forum which featured Larry Bruffee of Northern Construction in Shelburne Falls, Kyle Snow of Snow & Sons Landscaping of Greenfield, Justin Bardwell of CountryScape Landscape Design and Construction of Shelburne Falls, Steve Malsch of Nourse Farms in South Deerfield, and Brett Gewanter of Deerfield Academy in Deerfield.
In a wide ranging discussion that lasted over an hour, the group spoke to students in the FCTS landscaping and horticulture program about how they got started in the business, what services their companies provide, why they like their jobs, how graduates can get hired, what the job opportunities are, the future of landscaping and horticulture and other topics.
When asked what qualities they are looking for in prospective employees, all of the guest speakers emphasized hard work, motivation and education.
“We’re looking for someone with a good work ethic and a positive attitude,” Snow said. “We can train someone, so we’re looking for people who have a willingness to learn, who listen and have an interest.”
Malsch said the greenhouse business is becoming more technologically driven, so an education is an important component to success.
“If you guys are going to move up, I can’t emphasize enough the need for an education,” he said. “You’re going to need a degree so you should continue your education beyond the tech school.”
Bardwell added that FCTS students “have the advantage of a technical school education,” but he is also looking for employees with a positive attitude.
“If you couple the two, or you have experience and further education, that’s the whole package and you’ll grow with the company,” he said. “If you want to grow as an employee, you need to be a proactive learner.”
Bardwell added that he spends each winter furthering his education by attending seminars and trade shows to keep updated on new developments in the field.
The panelists said there were a number of reasons they got into landscaping and horticulture, including the opportunity to work outside and the diversity of the jobs.
“I worked for different landscaping crews,” Bardwell said. “Every day was new, especially in landscape construction. There were new challenges every day. It was a really rewarding thing to do on a daily basis.”
Bruffee said he intended to pursue a career in residential landscaping, but found he enjoyed the industrial and commercial side of the business more.
“It gave me an opportunity to travel and do a lot of different things,” he said. “You always have to look for new opportunities. Don’t be afraid of change, embrace it.”
Gewanter gets a great amount of satisfaction working with a close knit crew on a variety of projects.
“I enjoy the camaraderie you develop with the people you work with,” he said. “The relationships you develop with people along the way is something has kept me going. When you work with people year after year, you rely on those people and your relationship gets deeper.”
Rapid advances in technology are changing the landscaping and horticulture business in many ways, said the panelists. Bruffee even said that Northern Construction uses two drones to help with getting the lay of the terrain in places with difficult access, like swampland.
Malsch said the major issues in the greenhouse industry are the lack of an educated, as well as an aging workforce.
“I read an article that said the average age of a greenhouse grower is between 55-62-years-old,” he said. “To attract people your age we need to change the old farmer’s mindset of working 50-60 hours a week to working 40 hours week.”
Other challenges include how to implement new government regulations regarding the use of pesticides and finding a skilled labor force. The good news for the students was that the landscaping and horticulture industries are growing, which is creating more opportunities, including in management.
“The workload will be increasing in the next 10-15 years, so there will be opportunities there,” Bruffee said. “There are always opportunities. We try to make sure every employee can move up to the next pay rate and grow with the company.”
The students appreciated the insights of the panelists about working in landscaping and horticulture field.
“I was glad to find out about what they look for and how to prepare myself,” said Matthew Smith, 17, of Conway.
The importance of an education resonated with Meagan Blais, 18, of Halifax, Vermont.
“As a senior looking at colleges, it was interesting to find out that four out of five of the speakers went to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture,” she said. “I should look into that. I work for a landscaping company in the summer, but I might lean toward agriculture.”