Green Industry Worker Shortage? Look to Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School for a possible solution
It seems like every year there is a shortage of help in the green industry. I hear horror stories of H2B employees being weeks late to show up for work. Typically, they are held up because of incomplete or incorrect paperwork. I hear that many American workers that apply have very little experience or interest in our field, and it can take weeks or even months to train them – only to hope they stay for the long term (or even show up for the short term). It seems to me that if there were more qualified candidates and that less on-the-job training had to be done, the industry might be able to pay a little more. We all know that you can’t pay a little and get a lot. How can we educate and entice young folks prior to graduating high school that the green industry can be a lucrative one? One such school has that answer.
Massachusetts has long been known for its ability to offer some of the best pre-college and college education in the country. This year is no exception. The state has once again been ranked No. 1 for the best public school system in the country. As if that isn’t good enough, they also have regional technical high schools that students can attend in lieu of public high school. These schools offer an impressive selection of programs and real world training in many different fields ranging from auto technology, plumbing and heating, engineering & electrical trades, cosmetology and culinary arts. While many of us have attended public high schools with these types of tech programs available, I was recently introduced to the Landscape Construction and Horticulture Program offered by Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School.
This innovative program is designed to introduce and prepare students for the many career opportunities within the horticulture and landscape industry. The students spend six weeks of hands-on training in the field and then six weeks completing general academics. They continue like this throughout the school year. In this program students develop skills in arboriculture, floriculture, turf management, power equipment technology, irrigation technologies, heavy equipment operations, and landscape design, maintenance and construction. Students can specialize in Landscape Management, Landscape Construction, Athletic and Golf Turf Management, Horticultural Business Management, Floral Design and Arboriculture. Students operate and maintain specialized turf and landscape power equipment as they are in charge of the care of the expansive campus while undertaking many community projects in surrounding towns. They are the grounds department at the school and play a very important role in the grounds departments of the five member towns. They employ aeration equipment for the turf fields, a FINN HydroSeeder for new projects and overseeding work, Walker Mowers, edgers, a Bobcat Skid Steer, Caterpillar Mini Excavator, tractors, climbing gear and a newly acquired FINN Bark & Mulch Blower. They are building walls, patios and maintaining irrigation systems. They are learning about the benefits of compost and applying it to the landscape. They are learning about basic maintenance on the equipment that they operate everyday. The training the students receive in this program is hands-on and top notch.
Are educational programs like this the answer to the growing problem of the shortage of help in the green industry? It seems like every year there is a shortage of help in the green industry, and it doesn’t appear to be getting better. Are programs like this the answer? In part, they are. We all know that education is specifically one of the most important keys to our industry’s success; education of the customer, education of ourselves and education of our employees. Hopefully, Upper Cape Cod Regional Tech School will serve as an example to other communities and more programs like this one will become available in the future.