Erica Vetsch

As a recent graduate from the Department of Horticulture at Colorado State University (CSU), I have just begun my transition from the world of education into the green industry.  While I once managed a greenhouse for the university’s horticulture club that grew up to 500 plants at a time, I am now working for Welby Gardens in Arvada, where there are millions of plants to care for. 

This transition has taught me a great deal about the differences between classroom education and practical experiences in this industry. In sharing what I learned about the differences, I hope to shed some light on millennials’ expectations for their careers in horticulture. Additionally, I hope current students can learn a bit about what they should know going into the industry, and ways to be the best they can be at the start of their careers.

To gain more perspective on my peers’ career expectations, I spoke with several CSU students who are studying in various fields of horticulture. I also spoke with a recent graduate who is transitioning from an assistant grower to a managerial position. Together, we have compiled a list containing our expectations about pay and benefits, and our experiences as millennials beginning careers in the green industry.

Pay expectations
  • Depending on the field of horticulture they studied, the students had a wide range of pay expectations. The lowest was $15 an hour and the highest was $35, with most people saying they expected to start out making about $17 an hour.
  • Every individual I spoke with was unaware that agricultural employees are exempt from federally mandated overtime wage laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act . This means that agricultural workers are not legally required to be paid “time and a half” for exceeding 40 hours in a week or 12 hours in a day. Students would like to be informed on company policy regarding overtime before being hired.
  • Health insurance was the primary benefit desired by students, hoping to not exceed $150 per paycheck.
  • Vision and dental insurance were also desired, but were secondary to health insurance.
  • Very few students mentioned wanting 401(k) plans or life insurance.
  • Several students did not have hands-on experience using greenhouse equipment such as fertilizer injectors, electrical conductivity meters, or boom irrigation technology. Although they were educated about the technology, the only common piece of equipment all students had used was a hose. All students hope to be trained to use this equipment at the start of their careers.
  • Very few students knew how to speak Spanish fluently, but several were actively trying to learn. They said they would like to learn specific phrases that could aid them in their agricultural work and help bridge the language barrier as they continue to grow their Spanish skills.

While these are the general expectations of millennials in the green industry, I am aware that what we desire and what we initially receive may not always synchronize. What is most important is the ability to grow and advance within this industry. Having the opportunity to translate my education into quality work and tangible results is more important than receiving a high starting pay or a great benefits package. Like the plants we care for, growth is not possible without hard work and a supportive environment. Above all other expectations, we want to be recognized and appropriately compensated for our contributions to the green industry as a whole.