Carol O'Meara - Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara – Colorado State University Extension

BOULDER COUNTY – Taking the long view is something at which the landscape industry excels. Planting seeds, their thoughts always have a bit of the far away in them, to when trees become giants, shrubs a haven for wildlife, and flowers transform yards into the comforting feel of home.

So when challenges arose for the industry, they didn’t opt for short-term answers. Instead, they did what they’re best at and began sowing the seeds from which future generations of Green Industry staff and leaders will grow.

Colorado landscape companies are facing the worst shortage of skilled workers since 2009 and most companies say they could take on more work if they had more employees, according to the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC). A professional association whose mission is good stewardship of a vibrant industry, ALCC partnered with Colorado Community College System to launch the Landscape Career Pathways Program.

Together they offer high school Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers hands-on training in basic landscape skills so they can bring these lessons to the classroom. “I personally think it’s a good career path. You start out in an entry level job and can work your way up, becoming project managers or supervising others,” says Angie McCreavy, teacher at Saint Vrain Valley’s Career Development Center in Longmont. “People aren’t aware of all the career paths in the landscaping industry, they think it’s just digging holes or shoveling dirt.”

Recently, high school teachers representing 10 Colorado school districts met for a two-day hands-on workshop in Fort Collins. Sessions focused on skills related to installing landscapes, such as installing brick pavers to create a patio, how to calculate accurate drainage and slope, and proper planting techniques.

“Not every student can afford a four-year degree or wants to go to college immediately out of high school. This program helps make students employable right after graduating and points the way toward additional education that can advance their careers when they are ready,” said ALCC Career Pathways Director Becky Garber.

The landscape industry employs approximately 45,000 workers and brings more than $2 billion to the Colorado economy each year. There is a misperception that landscape jobs are manual labor and seasonal, but this program helps change the view of what a landscape career is, says McCreavy. “In reality, the industry provides a variety of positions such as design, turf management, and landscape management.”

The desire to encourage careers in the landscape industry and grow the workforce has prompted ALCC members to teach the classes and others sponsoring it. David Doyle, owner of Summit Lawn and Landscape and Zak George of Zak George Landscaping, both based in Fort Collins, led the March training session while DBC Irrigation Supply, the LL Johnson Distributing Co./Toro, Colorado Materials Inc. and Wagner Equipment and Wagner Rents were sponsors.

“These training sessions wouldn’t be possible were it not for support from our dedicated members and the equipment and materials suppliers who comprise Colorado’s landscape industry,” said Garber.

The program also exposes students to a variety of industry careers through job shadowing and internships. Once employed, recent students can gain on-the-job-training leading to industry certifications and more education to enhance their careers.

“There are a variety of jobs in the landscape industry and a variety of ways to enter the industry – whether right out of high school or by obtaining industry-based degrees from community colleges and universities,” said CCCS Director of Agriculture and Energy Michael Womochil.

Encourage your students to check out classes that lead to careers through the Career Pathways program or horticulture classes at community colleges and Colorado State University. Our industry is growing, and we need them for our future.

Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail [email protected] or visit