New Brunswick

Horticultural industry faces chronic shortage of skilled workers

There's a lack of skilled workers looking to get their hands dirty, according to Landscape New Brunswick, and the problem starts with kids not getting enough exposure to the outdoors.

As kids spend more time indoors, they're less inclined to choose outdoor work as adults, industry says

The horticultural industry believes young people would like to avoid physically demanding careers, but many would probably like digging into the soil if they gave it a try. (Ernie's Landscaping)

Jeffrey Lamrock first got the bug for landscaping as a student working for his grandfather's company in 1980.

He liked it, stayed with it and made a career for himself at Ernie's Landscaping, going on to buy the Saint John-based company in 1994.

"If you like to create and build things, it's very rewarding," Lamrock said.

"From a maintenance perspective, you're looking after gardens and lawns, and you can do your best to make things look as good as they can, and there's a lot of self-satisfaction."

Rewarding, hard work

But landscape horticulture is physically demanding work, and that, coinciding with the seasonal nature of the business,  can be a drawback for people entering the workforce.

"It's not hard to get young people, students who are driven to do the work but not to get into the industry," Lamrock said. "It's not a stepping stone for a career path for them.

Kids love to explore but we tend to shut it down as a society.- Jim Landry, Landscape New Brunswick

"It can be very rewarding but it's hard work, and students are looking at something more tech-oriented, something in those fields … good jobs that are not physically demanding."

The horticulture industry is experiencing a chronic shortage of workers, according to the horticultural trades association, Landscape New Brunswick.

Jim Landry, executive director of the organization, said it's been the number one issue for his industry for about 15 years, and it's getting worse.

Jeffrey Lamrock, the president of Ernie's Landscaping, says landscape horticulture is rewarding but physically demanding. (Ernie's Landscaping)

Landscaping has been a Red Seal trade for seven years. Certified workers can work in horticulture anywhere in Canada that has a similar designation. There are several training programs in Atlantic Canada.

But not enough people are taking advantage, Landry said.

"There are wonderful programs for landscape horticulture, but it tends to be filled by people offshore, and it becomes a bit of an extended learning program as opposed to students in seats," Landry said Monday on Information Morning Fredericton.

More outdoor play

Landry suspects the issue stems from kids not getting enough exposure to the outdoors.

"Kids don't get the exposure we used to," he said. "We've become quite urbanized, and that's probably the root cause.

"Children become disconnected with the soil and the love of getting dirty. … Kids love to explore but we tend to shut it down as a society."

Landry said landscaping isn't the highest-paying field, but many people find they love the work once they try it.

"We can build things and give them access to things that would encourage that unstructured play, and digging in the soil and all that good stuff," he said.

"A lot of schools even in urban areas have access to wooded areas. We could do nature trails, we could build outdoor playgrounds, we can help with community gardens and get them involved in growing things."

Landscape New Brunswick is planning a workshop on March 28 at the Fredericton Inn on 1315 Regent St.

It's intended for home and school associations and others interested in how to design a natural playground and get children excited about careers in horticulture.


Sarah Trainor is the morning newsreader at CBC New Brunswick. She has worked for the CBC since 2005.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton