Evaluating the preparedness of college/university-trained graduates entering the landscape contracting industry: a needs assessment
Industry input can assist postsecondary institutions as they strive to provide relevant knowledge and skill-building exercises for the professional development of their students. Using a mail questionnaire, we invited landscape contracting decision-makers to comment on the efficacy of landscape contracting curricula at colleges and universities. The population of Associated Landscape Contractors of America 2003 online member list (2049 companies) was organized into four strata based on company size. A stratified random sample of 400 companies was selected. We received 137 completed questionnaires (35% response rate). Most of the population was either satisfied or extremely satisfied (52%) with college graduates recently hired; only 8.1% of the population was dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied. When respondents were asked to consider four knowledge categories, a majority of the population (53%) said recent graduates were deficient in business knowledge, followed by construction (25.1%), horticultural (9.6%), and design (5.1%) knowledge. When respondents were asked to rate the importance of topics that could be taught in undergraduate landscape contracting programs, business topics (personnel management, estimating and bidding, and clientele management) were identified as their top three choices. The population also named three business-related skills (client relationships, time management, and managing employees) among the five most important skills for landscape contracting professionals. Despite the stated importance of business knowledge and training, 68.3% of the population said when hiring for an entry-level landscape contracting position, they prefer candidates with strong horticultural skills over those with strong business skills. These results suggest landscape contracting firms would welcome a postsecondary-trained work force with improved business skills; however, this business training should not come at the expense of horticultural course work and experience. Practically all of the population (96.7%) agreed industry professionals should be invited to take a more active role in shaping the menu of coursework offered in landscape contracting programs. Creating a collaborative relationship between faculty and industry can ultimately result in gains for the one common investment, the students.