Speaking to a room full of landscapers about the next generation of horticulture professionals, Brigham Young University professor Phil Allen shared some recent stats about his post-Millennial students.
“They have an attention span of three minutes and 19 seconds. They change tasks every 19 seconds, and they’re on their devices over six hours a day,” says Allen, the program leader for the university’s landscape management program. “I asked, ‘Do you want to hire somebody like that?’ and they said, ‘No, but we have to.’ They recognize that (this generation) is very different, but they don’t always know how to engage them.”
Alyssa Brown, one of Allen’s students who will graduate from the program this April, was shocked by the landscapers’ response.
“I feel like company owners are always talking about our generation like we’re some impossible puzzle to be solved,” says Brown, a teaching assistant at BYU. “I know there’s a certain level of truth to some generational trends, but I really wish people would stop marketing to me as a Millennial and just connect with me on a personal level.”
Not sure how to connect with this new crop of potential employees? Here’s what the next generation of landscaping students expect from job opportunities in this industry, and some tips for appealing to this future workforce.
1. They want a plan to advance.
Mark Pipper entered college in a pre-dental program, but after working a summer job at a landscaping company, he changed his major to pursue a career in the green industry. He graduated from Hinds Community College in 2008 with a two-year degree in landscape management technology and earned his Bachelor of Science in landscape contracting from Mississippi State University in 2010 with the goal of starting his own business one day.
Pipper worked several landscaping jobs after graduating. After over three years at one job, he left for a similar position at another company that offered a clear ladder for advancement.
“Students want to see the opportunity to advance. They want to see the career path they can follow,” says Martha Hill, former department chair of Hind’s two-year landscape management technology program, which folded after she retired in 2017. “But if they don’t realize they need to start in the field to understand how the company runs, that might be a surprise.”
So, students might need to temper their expectations if they expect to climb straight to the top of the ladder.
“A lot of companies want you to work in the field for a couple years before putting you in a management role,” says Brown, who plans to become a horticulture professor. “For a lot of students, it’s a huge turnoff because it’s like, ‘Well, why have I been doing internships every summer?’ I’ve had friends who were hired to be account managers, but they worked as crew members for several years before leaving the company because (they weren’t advancing).”
TIP #1: Offer clear, flexible career paths to show new hires opportunities for growth at your company.
2. They want a good culture.
After Pipper moved into a management role, another company recruited him for a similar position with slightly better pay and benefits. It seemed like an upgrade, but he soon realized that the ideal job isn’t just about growth opportunities, good pay and perks. Even with those benefits in place, the company culture can make all the difference.
“One of the main things I always look for, especially after my first job, is a family-oriented company,” says Pipper, 32. “There were times at my first job when it was difficult to miss work if my wife or kid was sick. So, one of the main things I look at is: What’s the atmosphere like? How close is the boss to his employees? Are they just employees or does he know them on a personal level?”
Culture was so important to Pipper that he ultimately decided to start his own company, S&P Outdoor Services, in April 2018 to establish the values he thought a landscaping company should commit to. “Honesty, integrity and the best quality work that clients can get – not necessarily at the cheapest dollar, but an affordable amount,” he says.
“Company culture is very high – if not the highest item – on students’ priorities in looking for companies today,” Allen says. “While we all want to feel wanted and feel like part of a team, the current generation of graduates clearly wants to be treated differently than people expected a generation or two ago. They want to work with you rather than think of you as their boss.”
Allen knows this because as part of his senior capstone class, students submit a final paper titled, “Key Systems in My Ideal Company.” Company culture is an increasingly common topic.
“I read over and over again that students want to share the vision with a company. They want to be part of something,” Allen says. “They really expect companies to have a mission statement, a vision statement and core values, and they decide whether or not they’re going to interview with a company based on whether they align with the mission and vision.”
In fact, when Brown wrote this paper last year, she focused mainly on culture.
“I pay attention to the culture by seeing how a company treats its lowest level employees,” she says. “I hate working with companies that treat employees like they’re replaceable and treat clients like a paycheck. I love working for companies that emphasize little things like knowing names and building employee trust.”
TIP #2: Communicate your company culture, mission, vision and values, and pay attention to how those are reflected in your work environment.
3. They want training.
An owner recently told Allen that he’d spent $3,000 recruiting a particular student into his company, only to realize three months after hiring her that he hadn’t once spoken with her. Rather than providing a smooth transition through onboarding and training, he just assumed she’d figure it out on her own.
“So many employers hire a new grad and make all the right promises, then the person comes to the company in the springtime, their busiest season, and gets thrown into the work with little to no guidance,” says Brown, who’s experienced this at several companies already.
As frustrating and overwhelming as that can feel to students, Allen says it can be disastrous for companies from a safety perspective. In every “Key Systems” paper he graded last semester, students shared examples of this.
“Without exception, every single student had a very bad experience where they weren’t given adequate instruction or given more responsibility than they could handle, because the supervisor didn’t recognize the need for training,” Allen says.
Allen is reading a book that claims as many as 44 percent of employees leave a job within the first three months – often resulting from lack of training, uncertain expectations or feeling unwanted.
“The companies that have (onboarding) figured out have an extremely competitive advantage,” he says. “Supervisors have got to help (new hires) feel valued and engaged and part of the team – rather than just saying, ‘Sit down and watch videos for half a day,’ which often happens.”
TIP #3: Develop an onboarding program that engages new hires and provides training for a smooth transition into your company.
4. They want to work smarter.
Brown was once assigned to work a job with another crew that needed assistance. The project involved several crews working several laborious hours without sufficient organization. Frustrated by the inefficiencies, Brown came up with some ideas to optimize the process – reducing the work from three hours to about 30 minutes, requiring fewer crews.
“However, after a few months, they went back to the old system because the manager was used to it and he saw no reason to change it,” she says. “Some companies are so rigid and run on tradition, instead of adapting with changes to find greater success. You lose so much money by not being willing to adapt.”
Today’s grads want to work in an environment where they can contribute to make improvements. They want to explore alternatives and innovate new solutions to move their team ahead.
“I’ve heard many managers say that our generation just doesn’t want to work hard, but I disagree,” Brown says. “I’m not opposed to working hard, (unless) we could be working smart instead. Most companies are of the mindset that our industry has to be one of long hours, and those who disagree aren’t cut out for it. To me, this seems archaic. Companies that are willing to adapt and develop more efficient practices are going to get the types of students who contribute to help the company improve.”
TIP #4: Invest in new technology and invite all employees to contribute ideas for improving efficiency.