Growing Plant-Based Industry Jobs in Rhode Island
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3 August 2021

KK&P has been working with the plant-based industry trade association, the RI Nursery and Landscape Association (RINLA), for the past four years to develop a suite of human capital-focused programs called Growing Futures. The programs were designed to attract, train and retain the next generation of green industry leaders whose work will increase the resiliency of the built and managed landscapes; protect farmland, coastal, and urban infrastructure; maintain adaptable and regenerative landscapes; and feed the community. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic and associated shutdowns rippled across the state’s economy, in many cases, the businesses that RINLA represents experienced surging demand for their products and services—and an enormous need for employees. 

To meet that skyrocketing demand, RINLA’s response began with a robust campaign focused on telling the story of what plant-based industry workers do, why that work matters, and how to get a foot in the door.  

KK&P provided support in the form of program strategy and design, creative partnership generation, and project management to support implementation. With that help, since January 2021, RINLA has shepherded almost 100 job seekers– highly diverse across age, educational and professional background, race, and gender identity— through training and assessment programs that combine online learning and hands-on work experience. RINLA partnered with the state Department of Environmental Management to have Civilian Conservation Corps-inspired crews of program participants execute trail clearing and maintenance on public lands. Overseen and coached by crew leaders from the industry, over nine weeks of program implementation, participants—many of whom had never worked outdoors or done manual labor before— built up and maintained more than 20 miles of public trails and fire roads (some of them built by the original depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps almost 90 years ago). 

Each cohort of the program has concluded with a “speed dating” style Job Match event for the participants who successfully complete the program. Picture 30 candidates, 20 employers, 20 breakout rooms in Zoom, a series of five-minute interviews over the course of two hours. The energy and competition (among employers for these newly trained candidates) have been palpable. And the results have been gratifying. More than 70% of participants who successfully completed the program have secured jobs in the industry. And many of the people placed in jobs are now entering RINLA’s registered apprenticeship program for Landscape/ Horticultural Technicians as incumbent employees. One participant wrote to us, “I just had my first day (of the new job), and it’s a dream job for me. Everything about it is exactly what I’ve been looking for!” From employers’ perspectives, the program has resonated as well. As one wrote: “Honestly, in my 10 years of HR, this was the most pleasant experience I have ever had when it came to recruiting and interviewing.”

RINLA and KK&P are continuing to work together on the next iterations of programs recruiting new entrants to the industry and providing them hands-on work experience, and at the same time, we’re working to launch new mid-level registered apprenticeship programs to create the mechanism for these energetic new entrants to grow new jobs into green industry careers.

Photo courtesy of the RI Nursery and Landscape Association (RINLA).