Why the younger horticulture workforce sees employment as a partnership

HortScholars panel website

(Left to right): Assistant Professor, Dr. Melinda Knuth of North Carolina State University, and HortScholars Lisa Richards, Ethan Jenkins, Rachel Swicioinis, Brian Schulker, Daniela “Donna” Perez-Lugones, and Phoebe Austerman . Photo: Julie Hullet

Company culture matters more than ever for jobs, according to a panel of AmericanHort academics at Cultivate’22. The younger generation of today’s workforce will be loyal to their employer, but they expect their employer to create a positive work environment and help them achieve their goals.

Dr. Melinda Knuth, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, moderated a group of AmericanHort researchers. The session was titled “Looking Ahead to Make Your Company Attractive to the Next Wave of Employees – A Panel Discussion with This Year’s HortScholars”. The HortScholars included Phoebe Austerman, Daniela “Donna” Perez-Lugones, Ethan Jenkins, Brian Schulker, Rachel Swicioinis, and Lisa Richards.

“If you don’t give them the same amount of energy, they’ll give up,” Knuth said of the young workforce members. “It’s a partnership and they will be loyal to you.”

Company culture matters

Panelists focused on corporate culture, noting that culture is a byproduct of people. Culture is evident from the first job interview to an employee’s last day in the company. Culture is a major factor in the work ethic of employees and the quality of their work. If the corporate culture is bad, employees won’t feel motivated to work effectively and they won’t take pride in their work.

It is the responsibility of the company’s management to create a fun, collaborative and positive work environment to retain its employees and recruit new ones. The HortScholars say employees will tell colleagues and friends about the company anyway, so the news might as well be good.

“Emphasize that there is a way for you to grow in the company and grow as a person,” Lugones said of recruiting young talent.

If employers are proactive in setting up their employees for success, employees will enjoy their work while working effectively. Jenkins shared a recent internship experience with a great corporate culture at Pairwise, a gene-editing startup for food crops. On the first day, her employer asked her what her goals were. Pairwise supported Jenkins so that he could achieve his personal and professional goals.

“The values ​​I seek are the same values ​​I want to bring,” Perez-Lugones said.

Richards said younger employees are driven to work, but they need leaders to look up to. Leaders must walk the talk, not just talk.

“When I look at a job description, I think about how I can fill it,” Swicioinis said. “I will match the energy of the employer. I’m here for you, but I want you to be there for me too.

Young people want to work

The term “big quit” pops up often in the news, but Richards said young people want to work. Austerman said young people understand that their employers are trying their luck, but new hires want to prove themselves in their new jobs.

“There is so much potential for young people,” she said. Jenkins said it’s a plus to hire young people — they’re eager to work.

Schulker said growers should develop a pipeline to feed new graduates into their operation. Austerman also suggested that growers connect with local university horticulture clubs to find students looking for internships or jobs. They appreciate the experience and feedback.

“Comments are a gift,” Richards added. “Take it as an opportunity, not an insult.”

Swicioinis said it’s hard to determine someone’s true personality before they’re hired. To paint an accurate picture, she said producers should have an informal interview with contestants, where contestants don’t feel pressured to put on a facade.

The HortScholars also addressed job descriptions. Technical language and industry jargon can make any job inaccessible to recent graduates, which is why they prefer clear and concise language. Employers should use bullet points to indicate required and preferred qualifications, they said. Job descriptions should also state full compensation and benefits. These lists often outline what the employer expects of you, but panelists said job descriptions should show how the employer and candidate can form a partnership to achieve both parties’ goals.


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