Do you remember the song title in the headline by Timbuk3 in the ’80s? Well, that’s how I felt attending the PLANET Student Career Days. The event reinforced what I’ve always believed: There’s an even brighter future ahead for our industry.

Last month, 62 colleges and 818 students from across the country and Canada met in Manhattan, Kan., for the 2012 Student Career Days. Kansas State University hosted this year’s Student Career Days (SCD), and the KSU campus staff helped make it a fantastic success.

In addition to the students, more than 151 contractors and their employees attended the event and participated in the event’s Career Fair. The Career Fair is where students meet and discuss employment opportunities with contractors.

Future superstars

The SCD is an annual three-day competition and networking event for students enrolled in interior and exterior horticulture programs at two and four-year colleges and universities from across the country. Each year a different host location is selected. This gives the participants a chance to see different parts of the country and also increases the level of difficulty for some of the outdoor competitions.

During the SCD, the students demonstrate their skills in real-world, competitive events coupled with the Career Fair. The annual event provides green industry companies with unparalleled opportunities to meet and recruit the best next-generation green industry future superstars.

Where are my shades?

The competition, networking and career opportunities offer both the students and contractors a great opportunity to meet, get to know each other, and have discussions regarding job opportunities and internships. After spending time at the Career Fair talking to students and the participating contractors, it’s clear our industry is alive and healthy.

Brett Lemcke, landscape industry certified manager and VP of R.M Landscape, Inc. of Hilton, N.Y., is PLANET’s Student Career Days committee chairman.

More than 800 students participated in this year’s PLANET Student Career Days at Kansas State University and competed in 28 indoor and outdoor competitions.

“We are happy to say the Career Fair was buzzing this year. Our feedback from both the industry and the students was strong. Opportunities for full-time employment as well as internships were being discussed,” says Lemcke. “It’s a very good thing to hear about the momentum we have in our industry. I am proud to be a part of an organization that wants to foster these students’ passion for the industry and help them develop their career ambitions.”

Career development

Throughout the event, green industry leaders presented workshops and PLANET presented its Career Development Series for students and faculty on topics they might not otherwise have the chance to learn about. By participating in the workshops and Career Development Series, students gathered information on topics such as irrigation, arboriculture, estimating and leadership skills.

I personally attended several sessions, including one focusing on business management sponsored and managed by AAA Landscape, Tucson, Ariz., that was extremely well-presented. It was followed by a written exam covering financial management.

Learning, testing, competing

One of the most popular segments of the SCDs is the testing and outdoor competition where teams of students from the colleges compete showing their experience and understanding of real life work performance. They were tested on more than 28 indoor/outdoor events, including exterior landscape design, landscape maintenance operations, landscape plant installation, and most other common jobs professional landscape contractors perform in their regular business operations.

PLANET members judged the competitions. This is a sizable sacrifice as they’re giving up three days of their time during their companies’ busiest season. PLANET supplier members provide sponsorships, equipment and personnel to make the event truly a meaningful experience for the students.

At the closing ceremonies, the students received well-earned awards and recognition. Congratulations to all the students, many who gave up their spring breaks to attend this very worthwhile event.

PLANET’s Student Career Days is coming to Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., in March 2013.

Rick Cuddihe is president of Lafayette Consulting Co., a PLANET Trailblazer, and he works with landscape contractors to improve their businesses. Contact him at