It’s been the same story for years: the availability of young talent, or lack thereof, remains a vexing issue for the pool and spa industry. Our industry simply doesn't know how to draw young people into the fold.
The issue was on my mind recently when I saw a press release about an annual competition that might hold some answers, or at least point the industry in a fresh direction. It’s called the National Collegiate Landscape Competition, an annual event staged by the National Association of Landscape Professionals. For the past 41 years, the association has invited hundreds of college students studying landscape architecture to the two-day event that features a number of design competitions, classes and networking opportunities. The most recent event was held March 16 to 18 at BYU in Provo, Utah., attended by nearly 800 students.
The idea is simple: bring top students to a venue where they can demonstrate their talent, meet their peers and network with prospective employers. It’s an idea that serves both interests of the students and the landscape architecture/design industries, which, like the pool and spa industry, is always in need of new talent entering the field.
I saw this type of idea in action firsthand several years ago, albeit on a much smaller scale. My good friend and long-time AQUA contributor, Mark Holden, was teaching a class in aquatic design for the landscape architecture program at Cal Poly Pomona in Southern California. Part of the class involved creating designs based on different project criteria and also meeting professionals from the industry. Mark asked me to lecture for his classes on a few occasions and participate in assessing his students’ work.
It was genuinely fun, and the kind of experience that gives one hope for the future, especially when it came time to look at the students' design ideas. Their only requirement for their designs was to use water in a creative way.
I was blown away by how creative and dynamic some of the ideas were. Under Mark’s guidance, the students came up with an impressive variety of often wildly creative ideas that used water to make everything from political statements to mimicking Monet’s gardens at Giverny to providing the ultimate place to get a tan and meet other youthful sun worshipers.
I was also amazed to see the students’ collective enthusiasm for working with water was infectious. Although not a focus of many landscape architecture programs, the opportunity to design pools, fountains, ponds and other waterfeatures excited those students in a way that in some cases led to careers in designing with water. Many said at the time it was the most exciting part of their studies at the university.
I can’t help but think a similar kind of idea might just work for our industry — devising a means to draw young people and engage them in the great enterprise of building and maintaining swimming pools.
Our industry is so steeped in fun and youthful energy to begin with, wouldn't it make sense to reflect those qualities in our outreach to a new generation of prospective industry members? Let them into the world of pools, spas and aquatic environments so they can see for themselves how they can form a career based on recreational and decorative water. After all, if we want to bring young people into the world of water, perhaps the best path would be to reach out to them directly with an opportunity for career networking and recognition.
In order to replace the retiring generation, we as an industry have to find ways to attract and engage young minds.