A great resource for employers and students alike

Photos Courtesy of Lake City Community College.

Turf and landscape companies seeking to upgrade their workforce can find a great resource in Lake City Community College (LCCC), Lake City, Fla. John R. Piersol, director of the division of golf, landscape and forestry, has spent the last 35 years fine-tuning programs to serve the needs of the industry.

The school is equally welcoming to traditional students, recent high school graduates in their teens, and nontraditional students who are older, but want to improve their skills in their current occupation or prepare for a new profession.

Piersol says, “The atmosphere at LCCC is all about learning a career. Any student of any age fits in here as long as that’s their focus. We’re not set up with a pick-and-choose, flexible schedule. Our courses are intense and take place during the daytime hours, which is best suited for the full-time student; but those in the workforce dedicated to gaining an education to open doors for greater job opportunities can always find a way to make it work.”

Students examine the samples pulled to evaluate turf conditions and soil characteristics. Students work in the greenhouses to gain skills in plant production and maintenance.

Explore the options

LCCC is known nationally for its golf course operations program, a three-year associate degree program that grooms students to be golf course superintendents. It requires 500 hours of golf maintenance work experience before entering. Unique to the LCCC program is the requirement that the first year be spent on a mechanics and shop management module, with the second and third years covering agronomy, horticulture and turf management.

The first-year module is offered to other students as turf equipment technology, a one-year applied technology diploma program. With additional courses, it could lead to an associate degree in turf equipment management. It trains students to manage the shop and maintain all the equipment used to care for the turf at golf courses.

Piersol says, “Though the focus is primarily on golf, the training is applicable to equipment maintenance for lawn maintenance companies, parks and recreation facilities or sports fields. Quite a bit of time is spent on reel mower maintenance, but those machines are used on many highly manicured turf areas. The program also covers safety issues and environmental regulations and procedures, with a focus on best management practices. Graduates are ready to step into the role of turf equipment technician and can gain field experience to work up to equipment manager positions.

“Those within the industry know how valuable a good service technician is to any facility or company. So, the one-year program is great training, or retraining, for entry into the job market for someone with the right aptitude. We always have more people seeking these personnel than graduates to fill the positions.”

Pest control operations is a 24-credit applied technology diploma program that includes courses on plant materials, botany, chemistry, business management, turf and ornamental pest control and more. The 24 credits can be completed in one year or spread over two years, with six credit hours per semester.

Piersol says, “The hardest jobs to fill at landscape companies are the mid-management positions, which require people to have horticulture education and good practical experience. We equip students to fill that role. Basically, a landscape maintenance professional must be able to inspect all turf and plant materials, diagnose any nutritional, insect or disease problems, and know what corrective measures to take.”

All 24 credits from the pest control operations articulate into the associate degree in landscape technology (64 credits) for students who wish to complete the two-year program and gain expertise in landscape design and installation.

The 27-credit, one-year forest operations certificate program covers multiple areas of forestry through a combination of classroom and lab sessions. The 18-credit, one-year certificate in horticulture program leads to entry-level positions in landscaping or nursery operations. Either of those programs’ credits articulate into LCCC’s 63-credit, two-year associate degree in agribusiness management, which focuses on skills needed for sales or supervisory positions in the green industry.

Those wanting to take a more active role in management with an existing company or start their own company must be astute in business, as well as plant science. Piersol says, “Business principles are an important part of the LCCC associate degree programs, but those seeking to advance to upper levels of management or operate their own business benefit from more in-depth business training. The credits earned for associate degrees in landscape technology, golf course operations or agribusiness management articulate to a bachelor’s in business administration through Saint Leo University on the LCCC campus.”

A Lake City student works on the propertechnique for banding a Palm tree. John R. Piersol is director of the divisionof golf, landscape and forestry for LakeCity Community College. He has spent thelast 35 years fine-tuning programs toserve the needs of the green industry.

Career awareness

One of the most difficult aspects green industry companies face is finding and keeping good personnel, especially those with the ability and training for mid-management positions.

Piersol says, “Those within the industry know there are many great opportunities for good jobs that pay well, but to change that public perception, we need to upgrade our image and be more proactive in showcasing the opportunities.”

He suggests that companies start at the high school level, attracting and channeling young talent to the profession. “Telling young people we have good jobs available isn’t enough,” he says. “We have to show them what we have to offer. The green industry has a great visual story that’s not reaching college-bound high school students when they’re in the process of career planning.”

He outlines a career awareness program that a landscape contractor can adopt to resolve that issue. Start by contacting your local high school and inviting the key administrators to visit a job site with you. Show them a recently completed upscale installation and/or a high-end property that your company maintains, and explain the various facets of the project and the expertise required by the staff members involved. Explain your personnel needs, pay scales and benefits, and the opportunities for staff members to advance within your organization. Offer to conduct a field trip for a group of students who might be interested in those opportunities, and make the high school administrators and counselors aware of your interest in hiring a few students part-time.

Take the time to meet one-on-one with a student you’ve prescreened to discuss their interest in the profession and assessment of you and your company.

Piersol says, “Tell them your company would be interested in sending him/her to college if he returns to work for your company. Depending on your resources and the individual’s potential, the funding could be a full or partial scholarship for the schooling and cover some of the other expenses involved, as well.”

Set up definite timelines and establish a reporting process to monitor the student’s progress throughout the program. Your willingness to invest in a student’s future will strengthen their confidence and increase their commitment to successfully completing their education.

There’s another resource to cultivate, notes Piersol: the children of your current Spanish-speaking staff members. Many of these Hispanic employees are U.S. citizens, or working toward becoming citizens, and they have their families here. While they may be struggling to learn English, their children will have quickly picked it up through school. He says, “Identify those with potential using the same prescreening process of part-time employment. Then, offer that individual some scholarship assistance for one of the LCCC programs with the promise of a specific position at a predetermined starting salary open for them when they graduate. You’ll gain a qualified, bilingual employee.”

Spread the word on what you’re doing in all these situations, adds Piersol. It’s the kind of grassroots story the news media love to cover. A local company providing support for the education of a local student to equip them for a local job that will benefit the local economy will generate positive public relations throughout the community.

Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a communications and market research firm in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has been involved in the green industry for over 40 years.