December 15, 2017
Nadia Blackburn
Nadia Blackburn

By Rachel Cerelli
LO Education and Labour Development Program Coordinator

Continuing the theme of last month’s column, where a life-altering event changed the career path for a young professional and ultimately led him down the pathway to success, this month I would like to introduce you to Nadia Blackburn. Nadia is a young professional who has certainly had a few bumps in the road. Nevertheless, Nadia continually got back up and kept on running. One of those bumps actually set Nadia in a new direction: she became a horticulturist by virtue of a need to gain full-time employment.

Nadia’s path began 15 years ago after graduating from Cawthra Park Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont. In 2003, she attended the University of Toronto, where she majored in history, and minored in English/psychology. During her summers off, Nadia had landed a decent job with the City of Mississauga, performing typical student-type work that included things like waste collection, grass cutting, etc.

A sudden change in priorities

In 2006 things changed drastically for Nadia and she was forced to grow up overnight with the loss of her father. To help support herself and her mother (who also sadly also passed away a few years later), Nadia had to work full-time and alter her studies to a part-time basis. This was a hard thing for Nadia to do — she thrived in the academic environment with her love of study and learning. However, making money became more of a priority. Nadia was fortunate to get a position as a seasonal temporary worker with the City of Mississauga’s Parks Operations Department.

As Nadia continued to work and focus on her studies after-hours, an opportunity presented itself: all full-time staff working within the City’s Parks Department were offered the opportunity to earn industry certification. While working full time for the City, Nadia was registered for the Horticulture Technician Apprenticeship Program (HTAP). Little did Nadia know, this would be the foundation for her long-time career in the horticulture profession. Interestingly enough, this is actually where I come into the story.

I was a teacher’s assistant for the HTAP run by Humber College at Landscape Ontario’s home office in Milton, Ont., where Nadia instantly became a part of my life. Her eagerness to learn and implement what she learned in everyday life was captivating. She had a bubbly attitude and was always willing to help a fellow classmate in need of guidance or tutoring. So all of what I tell you about Nadia I was lucky to witness first-hand.


Climbing up the ranks

From 2009-2014, Nadia held various full-time positions with the City of Mississauga and City of Burlington while completing her BA undergrad with Honours from U of T, and also her Masters in Leadership at U of G. Additionally, Nadia completed her Certificate of Qualifications for the Horticulture Technician Apprenticeship Program and joined the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (now, Ontario College of Trades) board, where she, along with other industry professionals, work together to ensure the HTAP is kept relevant and up-to-date across the country.

By completing the Apprenticeship Program, Nadia gained unbeatable on-the-job training, as well as excellent leadership skills through her work experience and university education. That combined work experience and education led Nadia down yet another pathway in 2015, when she became a Parks Supervisor and Horticulture Lead for the City of Toronto, working on horticulture displays in the downtown area. In 2017, Nadia became a General Supervisor for the Parks Maintenance Department.

Nadia has done very well for herself over the past 15 years. I am not sure where her path will go, but I am sure wherever that may be, she will continue to inspire, guide, support and embrace future leaders of our profession, giving back as others had given to her.

Advice for others

For this article, I asked Nadia, what message she would give to youth today, or to anyone interested in a career in horticulture. Nadia response: “I would not be where I am today without the foundation that was laid for me by the Horticulture Technician Apprenticeship Program. It had the perfect amount of practical theory to hands-on training, to give me a real view of the horticulture profession. I know I am a strong academic student, but this program was beautifully-built for those who are hands-on learners as well. Countless colleagues have gone through the program and have had a similar view. If you are questioning if this profession is for you, I urge you to take the opportunity the government has given us, and take part in the Horticulture Technician Apprenticeship Program.”

Visit for more information on the Apprenticeship Program or contact LO’s apprenticeship team.

Rachel Cerelli can be reached at 1-800-265-5656, ext. 2354 or
Alex Gibson can be reached at 613-809-5093 or


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