Looking for future landscaping leaders? NCLC is a good place to start

Companies looking for passionate horticulture and landscaping students attended the Career Fair during NCLC. Photo: Philippe NobileCompanies looking for passionate horticulture and landscaping students attended the Career Fair during NCLC.
Photo: Philippe Nobile

Ask about any landscaper what one of their biggest pain points is and majority will mention labor, yet the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC) you’ve been reading so much about is working to alleviate this problem.

The NCLC has been hosted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NCLC) for 41 years now and serves as more than a competition for landscaping students. During the three-day event students attend workshops and receive hands-on experience, with what may be their first time performing certain tasks like irrigation assembly and arboriculture, as well as networking with professionals.

“I think networking and being around industry leaders and talking with those in industry in between events is an amazing opportunity for the students, whether it’s an internship or a future job or just a relationship that might turn into a future job five years down the road,” said Kory Beidler, NCLC chair and director of training and development at LandCare.

Companies like John Deere, Caterpillar, Gravely and Husqvarna are all sponsors of the event, and they are just a few of the businesses that contribute to NCLC. STIHL is the competition’s sole platinum sponsor and it takes its sponsorship seriously.

“The future of that market, to some extent, is our future, and if we don’t invest in the future then shame on us. So that’s really why we’re supporting NALP and the Foundation and its work,” said Roger Phelps, corporate communications manager for STIHL. “Because these young students here that are getting scholarships, the 700-800 odd students who are competing in NCLC, they are the future of our industry and we think that it’s important to be part of that.”

One of the keys to helping the industry is changing the perception of landscaping as a career.

“Too often we’re defined by the mow-blow-and-go guy with the pickup truck and a dirty lawn mower who shows up in jeans, runs across your lawn a couple of times and leaves,” Phelps said. “That’s the image I think a lot of people have, so when you say, ‘Oh I’m a landscaper’ or ‘I’m a horticulturalist’ that’s the image people have in their head and that’s what’s frustrating to me.”

Phelps went on to stress that the general public’s lack of awareness of who is responsible for the beautiful landscapes they enjoy is a personal frustration of his and admits he never gave it much thought either before he was introduced to the green industry and NALP.

“That’s different now,” he said. “I’ve met the people who do that and that’s I think again why we’re so involved is we want them to get them credit they deserve and this is a profession that young people should be excited about and should to be proud to be in.”

NALP and the NALP Foundation are working to change homeowners’, parents’ and students’ perception of the green industry through the Industry Growth Initiative, which has launched both the LoveYourLandscape.org and LandscapeIndustryCareers.org in an effort to spread awareness of the benefits and careers landscapes afford.

“Labor is the next big deal and it’s not just the labor on the technical side it’s the labor at the management level,” Phelps said. “So really our challenge as a Foundation is to connect young people to careers in the landscape industry and landscape profession. That really is our biggest challenge and that’s something I’m excited to see. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’ve never seen the level of intensity, energy, focus and commitment that I’m seeing now.”

Portions of NCLC like the Career Fair serve as an opportunity to show students just how many paths they can take in the green industry and how many companies are eager to hire them.

“It gives them a great opportunity to meet professionals from around the country and different areas and see different opportunities,” said Craig Tolley, assistant professor of landscape and horticulture technology at County College of Morris in New Jersey.

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