In a classroom in Denver under the watchful eye of an irrigation expert, Thompson Valley High School agriculture educators Christie Adams and Jessica Brown carefully glued and fit a piece of PVC pipe into a 45-degree fitting that was part of the sprinkler system they were building.
Adams, Brown and fellow teachers from around Colorado assembled model sprinkler systems using “Sprinkler System in a Box” – a training device with all the components to build a working sprinkler system on a six-foot-long tabletop. Each teacher received their own Sprinkler System in a Box to take back to their classrooms, along with skills they can share with their students.
Teacher training is just one component of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado’s (ALCC) new Career Pathways training program. According to ALCC, the statewide trade association, landscape companies across Colorado are facing the worst shortage of skilled workers since 2009. To help solve the problem, ALCC, in partnership with the Colorado Community College System, has launched Colorado’s first Career Pathways program that guides high school students to career opportunities in the landscape industry.
Thompson Valley High School is one of the first schools in Colorado to participate in the Career Pathways training program. Adams and Brown were among 28 high school teachers who recently participated in a full-day training session focused on how to build a sprinkler system.
“There is a large demand for irrigation technicians. It’s one of the highest-paying entry-level positions in the industry and it often provides quick upward mobility,” said ALCC executive director Kristen Fefes. “The State Water Plan projects a 500,000 acre foot water gap by 2050, so the role of irrigation and water managers will only increase in importance.”
“Having our high school teachers learn directly from the experts in the field is the most efficient way to educate, which is why the partnership between the Community College System, ALCC and their landscape professional members is so valuable to us in providing that quality education to our students,” said Colorado Community College System program director Michael Womochil.
This grassroots initiative uses ALCC members as resources to help train high school teachers, who in turn will teach students to do technical tasks such as installing and maintaining an irrigation system. The program will also provide students with exposure to careers in the industry from entry-level positions to manager and ownership levels, to landscape design, project management, equipment operation and office support through job shadowing and internship opportunities.
“Not every student can afford a four-year degree or wants to go to college immediately out of high school” said Fefes. “This program opens job opportunities to new high school graduates and serves as a stepping stone to advance in the industry through the Community College System along with on-the-job training.”
According to Fefes, ALCC’s landscape companies throughout the state are standing by to involve students in job shadowing and as interns within their operations. Hands-on experience allows students to gain exposure to a variety of jobs and helps them hone their skills while they are still in high school.
The landscape industry employs approximately 45,000 workers and brings more than $2 billion to the Colorado economy each year. A 2015 industry poll revealed that two-thirds of landscape companies could take on more work if they had more skilled employees.