Why It’s Important to Educate and Engage the New Horticulture Generation

Jan Gulley, Gulley GreenhousesThe young adults entering the workforce have more professional choices than ever before. Not only are there more fields of study, but with the baby boomers retiring at record speed, the need for employees is at an all-time high.

In general, men and women born roughly between 1980 and 2000 are very unique and may require a different managerial strategy. They are highly educated with a wide range of talents, and many want to work in environments in which their work has a clear purpose for both the organization and society at large. It is also the first generation to have grown up technology literate. This dictates how they communicate with each other and in the workplace. Also, maintaining a balance between work and personal life is extremely important to this group.

While those are the main differences, Generation Y is similar to other generations in that they want to work on challenging projects, receive competitive compensation, have opportunities to learn and grow in their jobs, and be treated fairly.

At Gulley Greenhouse, we strive to attract these new adults entering the workforce and work to retain them by offering thought-provoking assignments, delivering regular feedback, providing professional development and training, and extending flexibility in schedules when possible.

Allow Employees to Take Ownership Over Their Work

By engaging employees in figuring out their own workflow patterns and schedules, we have given them ownership in how their day is structured. We have also taken on new crops and have asked the growing team to help us figure out how to make these crops successful by manipulating the temperature, moisture, and environment in general.

A large investment has been in our software system, which has helped us tremendously with managing orders, locations, timing, and efficiency. Since this younger generation is tech savvy, many of our employees are very proficient in using this program, and they understand the benefit of learning as much as they can to make their jobs easier and more efficient. This helps them see how their role is an important part of the whole business. In order for one person to be successful, the whole team needs to succeed.

Offer Competitive Wages

Being a greenhouse operation, we try to offer competitive wages, but we cannot afford to offer the same wages as many IT (Information Technology) and other professional businesses. Because of that, we try to create more of a family environment, where we want every employee to know how important they are. We have also given bonuses in past years based on certain projects.

Being the Head Grower at Gulley Greenhouse, I also make sure to check in daily with everyone on my team to see how they are doing and to talk about any challenges that may come that day. I walk around with every grower each week to discuss their crops, provide suggestions, and most importantly, to let them know what crops are going to be coming into their areas. I want them thinking ahead and planning how they are going to integrate new crops into their schedules. I want them to make decisions on locations within their area and not to feel dumped on by the production team. We have weekly meetings for the growers, the production team, and for the shipping team. This helps create an environment of trying to solve potential problems and for allowing employees to ask for help from other groups who may not be as busy.

Provide an Environmentally Friendly Workplace

Because a healthy work environment is important to many young adults, we have implemented biocontrols in certain areas. Being around unsafe chemicals that can harm the environment is a negative to this group. They will not accept working conditions threatening to themselves and the environment and would probably leave. Because of this and the concern from customers, we have stopped using neonicotinoids until further research can be done.

Create Opportunities for Education

The new horticultural generation perceives education as an added benefit to their everyday jobs, so we make an effort to find opportunities to share with them. We send our growers to different seminars and classes offered during the year and are fortunate in that Colorado State University is located in the same city. We have gone on field trips and meet with students to discuss research projects they have been working on.

Plant Select, a nonprofit collaboration between Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens and professional horticulturists that seeks out and distributes plants for the intermountain region, is another great educational opportunity. One of our growers and one of our production team members go to the meetings and are very involved. Being an hour away from Denver, it is hard to have the whole growing team take off and visit other facilities, but we try to take a few at a time. Also, Cultivate and webinars have been very beneficial in giving our teams opportunities to learn. For the growers, we also discuss different articles from professional magazines such as Greenhouse Grower in order to stay informed.

Be Flexible

As in every greenhouse operation, the spring comes with long hours and a lot of work. After the season slows, we try to offer flexible days and hours so employees can enjoy time with their families and the beautiful outdoors that Colorado offers.

Since employees spend a majority of their day at the greenhouse, we want to make sure that it is time they feel was well spent and successful. We are excited to empower this new generation and watch as they grow and contribute to our industry.

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