Landscaping career fair bustles with wall-to-wall opportunity

Students talk with representatives of Miamisburg, Ohio-based Grunder Landscaping Co. at Thursday’s National Collegiate Landscape Competition Career Fair. Photo: Jill OdomStudents talk with representatives of Miamisburg, Ohio-based Grunder Landscaping Co. at Thursday’s National Collegiate Landscape Competition Career Fair.
Photo: Jill Odom

It’s not every industry where a student can go to a career fair and find well-known companies actively seeking them out for internships and job opportunities, but that is what you will see at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC).

After being dismissed from the “roll call” at Thursday morning’s opening ceremony, during which each of the 62 participating colleges’ teams came up with a creative chant to represent their school, a veritable flood of bodies filled the concourse of Mississippi State University’s Humphrey Coliseum.

Booths with brand names such as Toro, John Deere and Husqvarna were next to landscaping company giants like BrightView and Ruppert Landscape.

Mixed in were other companies of varying sizes and locations, but they were all after one thing: the students.

Many booths featured company employees who had been recruited at past NCLCs. At the Landscape Workshop booth, Mason Snider, project manager, explained that he did three internships with the company while he was at Mississippi State and was offered a job after he graduated.

“When I graduated from college, I was kind of half and half,” he said. “I was out running a crew and then I’d spend my time in the office just learning. And once I did that, they moved me up to a managing role, and then a year and a half after that, I got moved up to covering construction, which is my background.

“I like where I am. This is what I went to school for.”

Company representatives at other booths stressed their location to lure in potential interns. With 35-40 employees, Landscape Technology Group is one of the smaller companies at this year’s event, but it has had a presence at the annual competition for about 15 years now.

“We love our interns,” said Shanon Huffman, office manager for Landscape Technology Group. “We’ve had many, many interns. They’re willing to learn anything and we love that. We love giving to them and teaching them. They become their own business owners and we mix and mingle and share ideas.”

Huffman says the company’s interns spend time working in every facet of Landscape Technology Group’s business, and then they’re given the chance to focus on the area that most interests them.

Other companies at today’s career fair were using their size to their advantage, such as LandCare, a company that has 50 locations in 20 states and about 4,000 employees.

“When you work with a large national company, there’s tons of opportunity for growth and given that we’re in so many states, a lot of the students want to go back to their home states and hopefully work with us in those states,” said Dana Christenson, director of corporate human resource services for LandCare. “We’re trying to reach out to students in the middle of their education and those who are graduating soon and letting them know we have opportunities across the country.”

Landscaping companies weren’t the only ones present. Chalet, which is primarily a nursery but also offers design/build, is casting a wide net for young talent.

“We’re looking for almost anything,” said Sara Marcucci, an employee who was recruited by Chalet through NCLC. “We’re looking for internships, we’re looking for landscape architecture students, horticulture students, students that are interested in maintenance, students that are interested in design and construction, students that are interested in working in retail, and we’re also interested in making connections with faculty that want to be able to exchange information to keep those lines of communication open for the future students that are interested in things we have to offer or vice versa.”

The nation’s largest landscaping company, BrightView, was out in force at this year’s event and has finally shed its pre-merger names of Brickman and ValleyCrest. The companies merged in 2014.

“We’re officially BrightView as of yesterday,” said Hillary Barnard, a spokesperson for the company. “I feel like it’s just a really exciting time moving forward with the company. There’s definitely a change, but it’s exciting that people are willing to jump onboard. We’ve got a new name, new color, and people are buying in to it.”

The company is ideally looking for students with a horticulture background and an ability to be personable with customers. BrightView is currently expanding and hires up to 100 interns a year.

Some companies that are less familiar with the NCLC career fair, such as Gothic Landscape, which has only been at the last four NCLCs, aren’t seeing a huge amount of interns, but they do recognize the value in hiring young people, as well as raising awareness among them about their company.

Christopher Wick, Gothic’s director of sales and marketing, explains their strategy for reaching potential interns: “We’re marketing a lot to cold-weather climate students who might be sick of the snow. We are (in) California, Nevada and Arizona. We are warm-weather all year round and we’re a big company – 1,400 – employees, but we’re fully family owned. We’ve got all the advantages of being a big company with all the benefits of being a private, family-owned company. We play big, but we feel small.”

As for the students, a number of them already have internships or jobs lined up, but even those who don’t see the value in the career fair.

“I have not (found internships or jobs), but I have talked to many people and I have contacts for the future,” said Cameron McNamee from Owens Community College in Ohio. “It’s very beneficial and very educational. I highly recommend it to other landscape students.”

NCLC, now in its 40th year, is coordinated by the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

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