Two Steps To Hiring Future Growers

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When looking ahead to the future of greenhouse operations, one issue that concerns me is that of trained grower managers. To play off one of the most overused terms from late 2012, I believe that we are facing a “growers cliff.”

The History Of The Grower Shortage

Not to age myself more than necessary, but I do remember the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s when students were graduating from universities trained in greenhouse operations. The numbers of students were growing at such a level that all growing operations’ needs could be filled. In the dawn of the new millennium, however, the situation began to change rather dramatically.

Between the tech boom, multiple economic downturns, increasing college costs and low starting-pay levels, we are encountering an overall lack of interest in the profession.  As a result, there seem to be fewer and fewer students graduating each year with an education based on greenhouse operations.

For quite a few years, I was fortunate enough to speak to a production class at one of the major universities in the country. Fifteen years ago or so, there were 40 to 45 students in the class and many were actually planning on a career in growing. We would host two or three interns at Four Star each year, and we often had to turn away more. As the years went by, the class size and chosen career path of the class changed. Five to seven years ago, the class was down to 12 to 15 students. Most of them were interested in a different area of our industry.

What The Shortage Means Today

This situation concerns me for two reasons.

1. It reflects the upcoming generations’ overall lack of interest in gardening. We must create and nurture an interest in plants and gardening. We need to bring attention to the positive improvements in quality of life and self-satisfaction that growing experiences can provide. Instead of raising virtual plants and animals on an electronic device, go outside in the sunshine and fresh air to do it for real.  Experience life; don’t live a simulated one — get real!

2. We aren’t doing enough to get young people interested in green industry jobs. We must show people looking at career options that good jobs are available.

As an industry, we have two options. We can find, train and develop new growers from within our own operations, or we can support the universities that train them for our future needs. This support can include scholarships, internships, tours, guest speaking, plant material for class use and, of course, hiring students upon graduation.

When considering hiring someone for a grower manager position, we must provide a salary that matches the investment the person has made to acquire the knowledge required. The salary should also reflect the commitment a company is willing to make toward this person’s future training and development.

Take the time to look around your operation and the industry in general. We are about more than growing plants. The time has come to grow the interest within people to garden and consider a career in the greenhouse industry.

Dennis Crum is the director of growing at Four Star Greenhouse in Carleton, Mich. You can reach him at dcrum@pwfourstar.com.

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