Did you know what you were going to do for a career when you were in high school? I didn’t. For me, the future was big, empty and, in a sense, scary. My guess is that many high school students feel similarly.

This leads me to ask — are we as an industry doing enough to alert and educate high school students in particular, to the career opportunities in our green services industry? That question came to my mind upon receiving from the Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association (ONLA) remaining me of something we have to do more of — engage high school students, male and female, in a positive way to our industry.

On Nov. 2, ONLA hosted 250 students for its second annual Ohio High School Landscape Olympics. The event took place at Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, Ohio. The students represented 20 schools. Upon arrival to the small quaint city of Wooster in northeast Ohio, they enjoyed a pizza party. Later that same afternoon they competed in 10 industry skill events, reconvening the following morning and spending the whole next day testing their skills against other students and schools. Many organizations and companies sponsored the Ohio High School Landscape Olympics. (Results of the competing and the generous sponsors that made it possible are mentioned at the end of this article.)

Ohio High School Landscape Olympics, plant installation

Plant installation at the Ohio High School Landscape Olympics. Photo: Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association

Of course, the granddaddy of student engagement in the industry is the annual National Collegiate Landscape Competition. Put on by the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) — formerly known as Student Career Days – it has taken place every March since 1977. Last spring 750 students representing 65 colleges competed for three days in 28 different skill sets at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. This coming year’s event is set for March 14-17, 2018, at Alamance Community College in Graham, North Carolina.

It’s an incredible event, supported by just about every major supplier to the industry, and its Career Fair attracts somewhere between 70-80 companies in a virtual feeding frenzy for eager young talent. But the National Collegiate Landscape Competition, as its name signifies, is not an event for high school students.

But college is not for every high school students, including some of the most ambitious and smart students. The green services industry may be just the thing they are looking for — but never realized it was there for them.

Starting in 2002 and for several years I was one of five advisors to a horticulture program at a vocational school just southwest of Cleveland, Ohio. The school’s primary mission is to prepare 11th and 12th graders from six surrounding schools for careers in culinary, welding, dental and medical assisting, law enforcement, HVAC, cosmetology and, at that time at least, the green industry.

Ohio Hi-Point Career Center Team

Ohio Hi-Point Career Center Team Photo: Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association

Although being asked to be an advisor admittedly, tickled my ego, I don’t want to puff up my role in the program. In truth, no heavy lifting was required of us advisors, and my office at the time was just across the street from the school. I could walk to our advisory meetings in a few minutes. Mostly what we advisors did, meeting every month or two, was to help the program’s advisor build or tweak the instructor’s curriculum and to keep him informed of emerging green industry trends and issues.

As I recall, there were about 12 or 13 students in the horticulture program each of the two seasons of my involvement. We advisors did not interact with them very much them. Looking back at our involvement, that was regrettable. We could have done a much better job of getting to know them individually.

Unexpectedly, my role as an advisor came to an end as the result of two unrelated occurrences — I began working from an office more than 70 miles from the school, and the horticulture instructor that we had been working with left the school for another position.

ONLA’s recent Ohio High School Landscape Olympics is, I believe, a true gauge of the enthusiasm that we can generate among young people in our industry if we increase our outreach and keep coming up with innovative and fun ways to attract positive attention to it. We’ve got a great story to tell and some great things to show young people – things that most high school students have never likely heard or experienced before.

Let’s get to know the programs in our local high schools, become acquainted with their career and academic advisors and let them know we’re available as sources not only for landscaping but also because of our knowledge of small business. We can do our local schools and their students — those truly looking for jobs leading to satisfying careers — a great service.

Here are the results from the recent Ohio High School Landscape Olympics:

2017 Medalists

Sales Presentation

Gold: Stephen Dunham, Ohio Hi-Point Career Center

Silver: Joe Arms, Knox County Career Center

Bronze: Zac Gordon, Upper Valley Career Center

Irrigation

Gold: Cassie Rine and Hunter Pinyerd, Knox Country

Silver: Ryliegh Myosky and Lucas Crunkilton, Penta Career Center

Bronze: Creighton Bradley and Cody Board, Ohio Hi-Point Career Center

Truck and Trailer Operation

Gold: Konnor Locker and Zac Gordon, Upper Valley Career Center

Silver: Nathan Zimdars and Ben Vucelich, Delaware Area Career Center

Bronze:  Aaron Blaney and Max Zugan, Auburn Career Center

Skid Steer Operation

Gold: Zachary DePew, Knox County Career Center

Silver: Jacob Toflinski, Auburn Career Center

Bronze: Blake Kessler, Marysville High School

Cost Estimation

Gold: Stephen Dunham, Ohio Hi-Point

Silver: Nathan Zimdars, Delaware Area Career Center

Bronze: Tony Dsuban, Talawanda-Butler Tech

Hardscape Installation

Gold: Eric Glaab and Jacob Schulte, Talawanda-Butler Tech

Silver: Libby Boyer and Ben Vucelich, Delaware Area Career Center

Bronze: Nolan VanBrunt and Kobe Heckman, Jackson High School

Compact Excavator Operation

Gold: Hunter Pinyerd, Knox County

Silver: Kobe Heckman, Jackson High School

Bronze: Jacob Schulte, Talawanda-Butler Tech

Landscape Maintenance

Gold: Joe Arms and Lane Browne, Knox County Career Center

Silver: Ben Vucelich and Nathan Zimdars, Delaware Area Career Center

Bronze: Norberto Morales-Botello and Andrew Gandolf, Auburn Career Center 

Landscape Plant Installation

Gold: Nolan VanBrunt, Brooke McDaniel , Kobe Heckman, Jackson High School

Silver: Zac Gordon, Matthew Herron, Brenden Kinnel, Upper Valley Career Center

Bronze: Orion Horn, Ben Brunswick, Damien Masters, Ohio Hi-Point Career Center

Plant ID

Gold: Sierra Ganley, Portage Lakes Career Center

Silver: Madison Morra, Cleveland Botanical Garden

Bronze: Dylan Cozens, Auburn Career Center

Top Ten Individuals

  1. Ben Vucelich, Delaware Area Career Center
  2. Grant Kessler, Marysville High School
  3. Blake Kessler, Marysville High School
  4. Stephen Dunham, Ohio Hi-Point Career Center
  5. Zac Gordon, Upper Valley Career Center
  6. Joe Arms, Knox County Career Center
  7. Kobe Heckman, Jackson High School
  8. Nolan VanBrunt, Jackson High School
  9. Jacob Schulte, Talawanda-Butler Tech
  10. Max Zugan, Auburn Career Center

Top Five Teams

  1. Ohio Hi-Point Career Center
  2. Knox County Career Center
  3. Jackson High School
  4. Auburn Career Center
  5. Talawanda-Butler Tech

Participating Schools

Ashtabula County Technical and Career Campus

Auburn Career Center

Buckeye Career Center

Cleveland Botanical Gardens

Delaware Area Career Center

Gates Mills Environmental Center

GlenOak High School

Jackson High School

Knox County Career Center

Mahoning County Career Center

Marysville High School

Ohio Hi-Point Career Center

Patrick Henry High School

Penta Career Center

Portage Lakes Career Center

Talawanda-Butler Tech

Tolles Career & Technical Center

Trumbull Career and Technical Center

Upper Valley Career Center

Wayne County Schools Career Center

The Olympics received support from numerous green industry companies.

2017 Silver Sponsors: Columbus State Community College, Columbus State Landscape Alumni Association

2017 Competition and Bronze Sponsors: Benchmark Landscape Construction, Inc., Bobcat Company, Brian-Kyles Construction, Brightview Landscaping, The Davey Tree Expert Company, EMI – Environmental Management Services, Inc., GreenScapes Landscape Co., Grunder Landscaping Co., Hemlock Landscapes, Inc., Hidden Creek Landscaping, Ohio CAT, Ohio Chapter ISA, The Ohio State University ATI, Ohio Turfgrass Foundation, Peabody Landscape Group, Rice’s Nursery & Landscaping, Inc., Ryan’s Landscaping, Schill Grounds Management, Unilock, Willoway Nurseries, Inc., Wolf Creek Company, and Yard Solutions.

Additional Sponsors: A.M. Leonard Inc., Buckeye Resources, Inc., First Impressions Lawn and Landscape Co., Five Seasons Landscape Management, Inc., M.J. Design Associates, Inc.