Recruiting Future Floriculture Students With The American Floral Endowment

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Suzanna McCloskey

Suzanna McCloskey

Inspiring future generations to cultivate a passion for flowers and plants, much less aspire to pursue a career in the floriculture or environmental horticulture industries, can sometimes seem like a monumental task. However, it is a task the industry must collectively adopt to ensure future generations experience a world where flowers and plants continue to improve everyday life in diverse and important ways.

While scholarships and internships are time-tested and essential for the next generation to become great leaders, the industry must also focus on ways to capture young people who may not yet even know about their career options in floriculture or horticulture.

Recruiting students is essential to securing a stronger, sustainable industry for future generations, and to increase enrollment, students must first know university programs actually exist to prepare them for excellence in the industry. Increasing awareness about floriculture and horticulture, especially the fact that students who graduate from those programs can have lifelong careers in the industry, is the first step toward increasing enrollment in floriculture and horticulture programs.

Grassroots Efforts Create Awareness
Luckily for the industry, there are creative educators, like those in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University (NCSU), who are attempting to do just that. During the fall semester of 2012, they conducted the Floral Plant Give-Away Project, where they gave 715 plants supplied by Altman Plants and the American Floral Endowment (AFE) to undecided undergraduate students and support members of the school’s First Year College Program, as well as to students enrolled in introductory horticulture classes. Those students were later surveyed about how the plants affected their lives and whether they sparked an interest in horticulture as a choice for a major, minor or elective.

Although the tracking of these students was still in progress as the study’s report was written, the findings were still fascinating. The report states 50 students visited NCSU’s Horticulture Department website, 44 visited a garden center and 60 developed an interest in taking a horticulture class. Additionally, 11 more students signed up for horticulture classes in the semester following the giveaway than in the semester of the giveaway, which can likely be attributed to the program. Again, these numbers are just from one semester on one campus. Imagine the industry impact if programs like this could be expanded to additional schools or spread over multiple semesters.

Use Social Media Tools To Grab Attention
AFE is also doing its part to get creative and innovative about promoting floriculture and horticulture to young people through a custom animated awareness video, “Murder, Sex, Greed.” AFE hopes the video will inspire and educate those who might not be familiar with the Endowment or the industry in general. As videos and websites like YouTube continue to boom, perhaps more industry members and educators should note where they can best use video to capture a younger audience, whether that be customers, employees, interns, students, etc.

Additionally, social media has become a tremendous way to raise awareness about the industry and inspire a love for flowers and plants in others, especially with the roaring popularity of Pinterest. Pinterest is a way to curate and share engaging images online and is perfect for highly visual industries like ours. With more than 70 million users, many of whom are young consumers, Pinterest is the perfect way to showcase floral designs, educate young people about how flowers and plants improve public life and much more. If you are not familiar with Pinterest or other social media platforms, do not fear. They are less intimidating than they may sound, and the free Social Media Guide for Floral Retailers and Wholesalers from the Floral Marketing Research Fund can help you.

Our Industry Can Create Opportunity For Students
Once students are aware of the industry, scholarships and internships become indispensible in encouraging them onward in a successful career. This year, AFE awarded $30,000 in scholarships after selecting 17 recipients from a record number of highly qualified candidates, which is promising for our industry’s future. Furthermore, if young people know scholarships exist, they may be more receptive to pursuing an agricultural career. Even so, scholarships are only one part of the picture for educating the next generation.

Equally important, internships provide students with real-world opportunities to put what they learn in the classroom and in textbooks to practical use. Many of AFE’s retail, wholesale or commercial production interns are now positioned in successful roles in the industry and often attribute much of their success to experience they gained during internships.

Earlier this year, I spoke to Kenny McCabe, a past AFE intern who is now a research associate at Iowa State University. He put it best: “You can learn book stuff all day long, but until you actually go out there and apply it, it just doesn’t stick.” By hosting interns and helping students get their foot in the door of the real horticulture and floriculture worlds, industry leaders can give back by mentoring the future generation in rewarding ways that complement classroom educations.

In short, if you are reading this, you already know that giving and receiving flowers are two of life’s greatest joys, and we must make sure to communicate that joy to future generations. People who pursue careers in the floriculture or horticulture industries have the opportunity to make people smile for a living, and what could be better than that? Industry members must work together through increasing awareness and providing scholastic opportunities to ignite a love of floriculture and horticulture in future leaders.

Suzanna McCloskey ( smccloskey@afeendowment.org ) is communications specialist for the American Floral Endowment, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the industry through funding floriculture research, educational grants and scholarships.
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