How to break into landscape design in Ontario

Industry experts say there's an "extreme" shortage of workers and a wide variety of opportunities for new graduates


With summer fast approaching and over a year of being cooped up inside in order to combat COVID-19, a career in the outdoors might seem appealing. Depending on what kind of work you’re looking for, industry experts say landscape design in Ontario could be the ideal field to pursue.

“There’s an extreme shortage of labour,” Richard Zoltek, program coordinator for the Humber College landscape technician program says. “One hundred per cent of our graduates have been hired in the last eight years of the program.”

But Zoltek says the program is small, with around 18 graduates per year, while he has around 100 employers looking for new hires annually. He describes the field as a “broad spectrum” and so it’s the ideal career for students who are passionate about the environment and design but haven’t figured out where to go from there. “The field is massive, the opportunities are extensive, and the work you do could be different every day,” he says.

Sean Kelly is the director of the School of Environmental Design and and Rural Development at the University of Guelph, which includes a bachelor’s or Master’s degree in landscape architecture. He has seen an increasing demand in the field – but in a slightly different way.

“There’s a demand for the education from the students seeking to enter the field,” he says, pointing to the fact that the department used to accept around 25 students per year into its undergraduate program in the 80s, compared with the 65 they accept now. “It has to do with students having a lot more environmental concern and consciousness about the issues there,” he says.

The university is currently the only one in Canada offering an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture, which Kelly says could partially account for the high demand, with the program fielding upwards of 500 applicants per year.

Why pursue a landscaping career?

For those pursuing the landscape architecture side of the field, Kelly says that while you may be a specialist, you’re still considered a “jack of all trades.” The field offers a large variety of opportunities and different career paths – if you’re interested in the more aesthetic-focused side of the job, there are opportunities with big firms to design larger destination areas or campus planning. If the environmental side is more your speed, Kelly says the field has expanded to include projects that focus on issues such as stormwater management, hydro corridors and more.

Zoltek echoes a similar theme for landscape technicians. “There’s ignorance toward the industry, there’s a lack of understanding about what the job is,” he says. “It’s actually a very business-oriented industry that has endless potential for financial earnings if you are good, fast and you love what you do.”

He says he’s met students who fell back on landscaping once they couldn’t get into other programs and then quickly realized how much they loved the field. “The unique thing about landscape design is that it grows, it changes and it has seasons,” he says. “These are all things that are so challenging and are so rewarding, because every time you go back, it changes and evolves and it becomes a real passion.”

Zoltek also says the field is a real area of growth, pointing to newer focuses such as water purification, tranquility gardens for hospitals, horticultural therapy and rooftop gardens. “Landscaping can create a place of contemplation, spiritual growth and enlightenment, so it’s an expanding field – it’s not something that is limited to certain boundaries,” he says.

What are the drawbacks?

The field might not be for everybody because of Canada’s four seasons. Zoltek says workers have to be very diverse in the way they approach the off-season, either using the winter for planning or taking it as a vacation and working much longer hours during the other three seasons.

“If you don’t like to work more than eight hours a day, don’t go into it,” he advises. “If you want a nine-to-five job, don’t go into it. If you don’t like people or nature, don’t go into it.”

Kelly says that for students who study at Guelph with an environmental focus, starting a job can be a bit of a reality check.

“They may be a little idealistic on the types of projects they want to work on, and then they find that you’ve got to take a job that may not align perfectly with the principles that you have,” he says.

How do I pursue landscape design in Ontario?

If you’re interested in the hands-on side of landscaping work, look for landscape technician or horticultural programs in colleges across Ontario, which will give you the foundation and skill set for a variety of jobs, including landscape design, maintenance and construction and greenhouse, grounds and garden maintenance. These programs can last anywhere from two to four years, and can lead into further education opportunities. For those interested in landscape design, a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in landscape architecture might be a better fit. Salaries for landscape technicians average around $40,000 a year, while landscape architects can make a bit more at around $60,000 a year, depending on location and job.

Where to study landscape design

Horticulture/Landscaping

Algonquin College (Ottawa) Horticultural Industries Diploma, $2,866.77 per year (includes fees). algonquincollege.com

Durham College (Durham) Horticultural Technician Diploma, $3,707.39 per year (includes fees). durhamcollege.ca

Fanshawe College (London) Landscape Design Advanced Diploma, $4,974.30 per year (includes fees); Horticulture Technician Diploma, $5,214.86 per year (includes fees); Honours Bachelor of Environmental Design and Planning, $7,931.46 per year (includes fees). fanshawec.ca

Humber College (Toronto) Landscape Technician Diploma, $3,785.14 per year (includes fees). humber.ca

Niagara College (Niagara-on-the-Lake) Landscape Horticulture Techniques Certificate, $4,191.88 per year (includes fees); Horticultural Technician Diploma, $4,191.88 per year (includes fees); Greenhouse Technician Diploma, $4,191.88 per year (includes fees); Landscape Technician Diploma, $4,191.88 per year (includes fees). niagaracollege.ca

Ridgetown College (Guelph) Associate Diploma in Horticulture, $4,812 per year (includes fees). ridgetownc.com

Seneca College (Toronto) Environmental Landscape Management Diploma, $3,452 per year (includes fees). senecacollege.ca

St. Clair College (Windsor) Landscape Horticulture Diploma, $4,407.62 per year (includes fees). stclaircollege.ca

Landscape Architecture

University of Guelph (Guelph) Bachelor of Landscape Architecture, $10,251.28 per year; Master of Landscape Architecture, $5,853.66 per year (includes fees). uoguelph.ca

University of Toronto (Toronto) Master of Landscape Architecture, $11,400 per year. utoronto.ca

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