ENVIRONMENT: Career outlook in the green industry

Employment in the applied plant science portion of the green industry is literally growing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment opportunities in the plant science field are excellent, with more job openings than job seekers.

Employment in this field is expected to grow between 10 to 20 percent for all occupations through the year 2005. This growth is in response to the increasing demand for both products and services by commercial producers, landscape contractors, turf managers and the general public.

According to a recent information from the American Nursery and Landscape association, “U.S. homeowners are turning to landscape, lawn, and tree care professionals in record numbers, spending an all-time high $17.4 billion on outdoor ‘home improvement’ in 1999. More than 26 million households hired a green professional–a 23 percent increase over the previous year, and that number could rise to 29 million in 2000, according to a just-released Gallup survey.”

In one area of sports turf, namely golf, there are 26.4 million golfers in the U.S. over the age of 12, and the states with the highest participation are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and South Dakota, according to the National Golf Foundation (NFG). The average participation in these states is about 20 percent, while the national rate is 12 percent. The NFG reports that there is new golf construction activity at more than 30 sites in Michigan this year alone.

More landscape firms, nurseries and golf courses are having a harder time getting qualified workers and are looking to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for relief. They are looking for individuals who have knowledge in performing the job in a quality manner. There is growing concern about the “untrained” landscapers harming the industry.

The Michigan Occupational Information System reported these average earnings (1996 figures): for a gardener, grounds keeper, landscaper, the turfgrass areas are in the $20,000-$40,000 range, while an athletic field custodian earns between $16,000-$37,000.

In response to the regional plant industry’s needs, Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University offer a combined degree and certificate program in Applied Plant Science that can be completed without leaving northern Michigan. The MSU and NMC courses are scheduled during the evenings with the adult worker/learner in mind. Those who may have future plans to earn a bachelor’s degree have several NMC University Center program options from which to choose.

The Applied Plant Science program prepares graduates for a wide range of employment and career choices. Each student receives personal one-on-one help in selecting her/his program of study (including a workplace internship) with MSU certificates in Landscape and Nursery or Applied Plant Science, with options in Commercial Horticulture Operations or Commercial Turfgrass Operations, plus an NMC Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Science degree.

Employers report that occupational skills and personal attributes for those who wish to pursue employment and careers in plant science should include a visible and contagious energy level; good judgment; common sense and the ability to carry out projects and work independently; an ability to work in teams, get along with fellow employees/staff members; a commitment to quality and customer service; good communication skills–written and verbal; good computer and math skills; and an appreciation for our natural environment

Workplace internships are a central feature of the MSU-NMC program. Each year there are a number of valued and “career-focused” internship opportunities, such as:

? Landscape and Nursery internships include the production, selection, use and care of ornamental plants. Graduates are prepared for employment and job promotion in nurseries, landscape contracting, and garden centers, along with many other entrepreneurial opportunities.

? Commercial Horticulture internships prepare graduates for employment or career advancement in regional orchard/vineyard industries, orchard/vineyard supply firms, or in orchard consultation and pest management.

? Commercial Turfgrass internships expose students to the opportunities within commercial turf care, resort properties, grounds management, golf and winter sports facilities, and related fields. Graduates are prepared to enter or advance in the “green industry.”

Following are some examples of what MSU-NMC Applied Plant Science students and program graduates have said about their training for the green industry:

“NMC and MSU have made the opportunity possible and the instructors have made the Plant Science program enjoyable.”

–Ron Belic, Copemish

“The value of my courses has been emphasized by my gardening services business. I’ve been able to put practical concepts and knowledge from my classes to immediate use, and can now accept more interesting, challenging, high valued projects with the confidence of being well prepared.”

–Jeanne Regentin, Harbor Springs

“I have been able to earn a degree and certificate in Landscape and Nursery without having to sell my home, relocate my family, or leave my job. I find the interactive television courses just as comfortable as the live classroom instruction!”

–Cindy Gerhard, Traverse City

General Manager of Northport Nursery

“The program has definitely helped me in my business in many ways. There are so many things that I can do now because of the program.”

–Jesse LaCross, Cedar

Owner of LaCross Landscaping

L. Andy Norman is Coordinator of the Michigan State University-Northwestern Michigan College Applied Plant Science Program. Reach him at 929-3902. BIZNEWS