“Help Wanted: Floral Designer.” Post this sign in your flower shop window, and you’ll get plenty of inquiries. But how many applicants will have the skills needed?
Instead, contacting high schools, vocational and technical schools, community colleges, universities, and proprietary schools that provide education in floral design, floriculture and even horticulture can be a better bet (see sidebar on Page 80 for more information on various types of education programs). And that’s something that many florists never consider or even think about.
By contacting education organizations and institutions, you will, at least, reach people who have demonstrated an interest in our industry by investing in education and have received a certain level of training — ranging from floral design, flower care and plant identification to marketing, salesmanship and business management, depending on the education program — rather than having to deal with, perhaps, casual applicants who just think it would be “fun” to work with flowers and have no idea what really goes on in a flower shop.
the state of education
Enrollment in many high school and college-level horticulture programs has been waning since the start of the millennium. Floral design, in particular, has been squeezed out of the curriculum in some educational institutions because of the high cost of instructional materials and decreasing student enrollments. In some cases, degree programs have been replaced by certificate options or elective courses taken by students in other majors. Last June, business forecast publisher Kiplinger predicted a 10.5 percent decline in job growth for floral designers through 2024. This follows a troubling 24.7 percent drop in job growth for floral designers between 2004 and 2014.
Despite these issues, there remains a population of energetic students enthusiastically seeking careers in the floral industry — retail flower shops, wholesale florists and associated businesses. These students are the future of the floral industry and a valuable human resource worth seeking. Following are 12 tips for finding them, attracting them and keeping them.
1. SEARCH FAR AND WIDE. Recent graduates of floral design programs often consider relocating for the right career opportunity, so look beyond your community for employees. Write a job announcement, email it to floral design schools and college/university floriculture/ horticulture departments across the country, and ask for the announcement to be posted on job boards and included in career newsletters. You can also advertise job openings nationally in Florists’ Review quite affordably (see the “Job Opportunities” section in “Classifieds” on Page 78).
2. SEEK INTERNS. Many academic programs either require or encourage internships. Typically, student interns are paid employees who work in an approved business for a period of time rather than taking classes. Internships are an excellent way to “try out” an employee without an obligation to rehire him or her after graduation.
3. BECOME ACTIVE AND KNOWN. Get acquainted and involved with the various floral education programs and industry associations in your state, and make your employee needs known to the directors or faculty. Students and graduates are more inclined to contact familiar faces than make cold calls on potential employers, and faculty are more apt to refer students to people and businesses they know.
4. SCOUT FOR HELP AT PROFESSIONAL MEETINGS. Get to know those who organize activities for students or who oversee student volunteers at the conventions you attend. Make opportunities to see students in action and interact with them during these events.
5. COMPENSATE FAIRLY. Be prepared to offer a wage or salary commensurate with the education, experience and skill level of the candidate. While a trial period at a lower wage may be acceptable initially, create a plan and process by which new hires can earn pay increases.
6. OFFER PERKS. To compete for graduates of floral design schools or high-school/college/university floriculture programs today, you will likely have to offer a compensation package that includes more than just an hourly wage or salary, including a health plan; 401(k) plan; overtime pay; sick leave; employee discounts; time off for or paid attendance to floral workshops, design shows or conventions; etc. Have a written outline of the benefits your company offers.
7. TITLES MATTER, TOO. Be sure that your company provides meaningful titles for employees with floral education or experience. The term “apprentice” (floral design apprentice, sales apprentice, etc.) is generally acceptable until a defined period of time has passed or a set of criteria is achieved. Advancement opportunities, incentives to strive toward and important responsibilities are prime motivators for young and eager employees.
8. VALUE THE EDUCATION. Graduates of floriculture programs have likely studied botany, plant identification, human resource management, interpersonal communication as well as the principles and elements of floral design, merchandising, packaging and marketing floral products. To keep quality personnel for the long term, respect these people’s knowledge, be accepting of new or different methods, embrace creativity and welcome fresh perspectives.
9. PROVIDE TRAINING. Expect a learning curve with any new employee, and make time daily to teach at least one shop lesson. By demonstrating rather than describing your preferred way of prepping containers, wrapping bouquets or arranging a dozen roses, you’ll be presenting information in the manner former students are accustomed to having learned in classroom environments.
10. BE A POSITIVE MENTOR. Provide the tools needed for new employees to get off to a good start, including guidance from a patient and experienced peer. Provide regular feedback, making sure to balance negatives with positives and be accepting of rookie mistakes. Encourage efficiency, but acknowledge that speed comes with experience. Help young designers correct mistakes rather than changing arrangements behind their backs.
11. MOTIVATE MILLENNIALS. Recognize what makes young people tick, and determine the best ways to accommodate work preferences. Allow cellphones and headphones during suitable work activities. Provide three five-minute breaks instead of a single fifteen minute pause so staff can feed their need to interact on social media. Support causes that get millennials excited, such as sustainability and social improvement initiatives. Develop a glassware recycling campaign, choose a monthly charity for flower donations or reward staff for community service.
12. BLAZE NEW TRAILS. Tap into the enthusiasm and special skills of new employees to take your business in new directions. Assign new staff to start a blog, develop a social media presence, take a fresh approach to store displays or develop a dynamic photo gallery for your website. Appeal to millennials’ desire to make an impact by setting goals, tracking progress, and providing feedback and rewards.
Students and graduates of floral design schools or high-school/college/university floriculture programs are seeking careers that are rewarding and provide a payoff for their investment in education. By giving them a shot and supporting their professional goals, you’ll be rewarded with energy and enthusiasm that just might invigorate you, too.
Teresa Lanker is associate professor and chair of the Horticulture Division at The Ohio State University ATI campus in Wooster, Ohio. She also serves as the coordinator of the Floral Design and Marketing degree program and teaches classes in floral design, retail floristry and postharvest flower care, as well as supervising the student internship program and operation of the campus flower shop. Contact Teresa by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (330) 287-1242.