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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
Cultivating a career in horticulture

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun

Just one year ago, Jonathan Kenny couldn't imagine what he would do after high school. Today, thanks to a placement at a golf course, he looks forward to a budding career in horticulture and landscaping upon graduation.

"I really like horticulture and planting things," says Kenny, a Grade 12 student at Bendale Business and Technical Institute in Scarborough. "I like working outside."
OYAP horticultural apprentice Jonathan Kenny, right, with supervisor Kyra Fowler.

The 18-year-old began a co-op placement at the Scarboro Golf & Country Club this fall, where his duties have included pulling out summer annuals and replacing them with fall flowers, trimming hedges and raking up bunkers. He's also being trained on utility vehicles and is learning how to use various cutting tools.

He plans to continue studying horticulture and landscaping through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), which allows students to earn credits toward their high school diploma while the hours they worked at a job placement are applied to journeyperson certification in their chosen trade.

OYAP also offers students a chance to earn a salary and receive financial assistance towards the purchase of necessary tools and clothing.

Kenny appreciates the opportunity to learn outside the classroom. "Your employer expects you to be responsible, to be on time and to keep busy ... My teacher visits every week to see how I'm doing."

His teacher is impressed with the skills students pick up on the job. "A placement offers an exposure to what it's like to be in an established business," says Bill Brown, head of the school's co-op program.

OYAP has paved the way for a renewed understanding of apprenticeship, says Brown, who has arranged placements for the past 15 years. Employers and employees recognize that students aren't competing for their jobs, but rather looking to gain the skills needed to fill the shortage of skilled workers in a growing number of trades.

"They realize there's a need to 'grow their own,' a need to attract new resources," Brown says.

In addition to technical skills, students are learning other important skills. "They learn they are responsible for certain jobs. If those jobs aren't done, it has a domino effect on other employees," Brown says.

At the same time, placements give employers valuable insight into potential employees. "We've had some good candidates come out of placements," says Keith Rasmus, golf course superintendent at Scarboro Golf & Country Club.

A career in horticulture and landscaping offers countless opportunities, he reports. "It doesn't matter where you go, most of the equipment transfers over," says Rasmus, who has taken on students from as far away as Australia.

"It is becoming more of a focused industry. Most golf courses have a specialist on staff. The skills also carry over into nurseries, vineyards and garden centres," Rasmus says.

Giving students a chance to gain skills through placement is an important way of giving back to the community, Rasmus says. "There are very few schools, even post-secondary, where kids finish school and are ready to work. When students are young, you can develop them and give them skills they'll carry with them for years to come."

(Linda White is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont. and can be reached at

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