When Paul Fraynd, owner of Sun Valley Landscaping based in Omaha, Nebraska, spoke to a classroom full of seventh-graders, he started out asking how many of them wanted to be doctors or lawyers when they grew up.
Hands went up, but when he asked how many wanted to be a landscape professional, none of the students raised their hands. However, after his presentation on the many jobs the landscaping industry offers, Fraynd says about seven students raised their hands when he asked again if any of them were interested.
“It was really fun,” he said. “The kids had a great time and they didn’t realize all the different paths there are to do in our industry, so it was really cool. We all take so much pride in our individual people and a couple of them got to speak.”
Reaching out and educating the upcoming generation about the careers in the green industry is just one part of the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ (NALP) Industry Growth Initiative (IGI).
IGI had a soft launch in 2016 but was fully adopted by the NALP Foundation in 2017.
“Industry leaders determined NALP needed to take a more active role in representing the industry to the public – educating people about the value and importance of managed lawns and landscapes,” said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for NALP. “From there, it was determined this external messaging needed to promote the profession and make students and men and women understand the outstanding career opportunities that exist. Accordingly, IGI is now charged with educating the public that life – and life’s work – are both best enjoyed outdoors.”
IGI’s consumer website, LoveYourLandscape.org, was introduced in 2016 and its content on social media platforms has reached more than 1.2 million users and targeted homeowners. Henriksen says this presence has helped drive around 20,000 people a month to the Find a Professional tool on their website.
Fraynd says that his company has received some leads from LoveYourLandscape.org thanks to the content he shares on the Sun Valley’s social media.
Aside from sharing articles on its own site, IGI has been able to spread its industry messaging to more than 80 million people through channels like NBC and Fox and Sun Valley even had its work featured in an AP newswire story on bocce ball courts.
“I would have not gotten that opportunity if it weren’t for this program, so I guess I’d say you get out what you put into it,” Fraynd said. “But it’s pretty easy to see what you can get out of it.”
Others have been able to use the content to advocate for an increased budget for landscape management services and Henriksen says the initiative has been able to help educate a reporter who contacted NALP for a comment about the industry.
“We changed the reporter’s mind about the work professionals do, resulting in a positive article and three more by the same reporter,” she said. “We are providing much needed education to the public and creating a positive, professional voice and image for the industry.”
IGI has also conducted a survey along with the National Association of Realtors to gauge consumer confidence to get a baseline of how much homeowners trust landscape professionals.
“The results came back very positive, much better than we had (expected), not that we thought they’d be bad, but that landscapers already have a pretty good perception,” Fraynd said. “We’re planning to do a follow-up to that survey this year and so we’ll be able to see if we moved the needle or not.”
Meanwhile, the LandscapeIndustryCareers.org website was launched last year to meet the dire labor needs of landscaping companies from across the country. Not only does it have articles and videos educating individuals on the career opportunities in the green industry, it also hosts a job board.
According to Henriksen, IGI’s advertising campaign has driven 66,000 people to the job board in the past two months alone. Sun Valley has hired a manager off of the career website and Fraynd says his colleagues have found applicants that way as well. He says sites like Indeed will always have a place but one of the benefits of this job board is how it promotes both the industry and particular jobs.
“When you’re hiring somebody, you’re not only competing against other landscapers but also other trades,” Fraynd said. “We’re always talking about how we’re competing with PayPal because they have a huge office here, so you have to sell them on the industry and your particular job too.”
Part of IGI’s efforts to address the workforce shortage is the first-ever Landscape Career Day, which will take place in March and April for most lawn and landscape companies.
“We purposefully left the date fluid,” Henriksen said. “Some companies that need to hire for the busy season may do events now, while those who are more interested in planting seeds for future generations may do school fairs or community service events at times that work with partner organizations. There are different options for what kind of events people may hold – open houses, school events, community service programs, career fairs, etc.”
NALP has created a 21-page toolkit that includes digital ads, activity guides and other materials that promote the industry to people of all ages for companies interested in participating.
One of the things that Fraynd likes the most about IGI is the grass-roots nature of the initiative.
“To me, the big thing is just that this is driven by peers, like other landscape colleagues, so it’s not something that some corporate person in New York is making up on their own,” he said. “It’s all driven by other landscapers so the content, the photos, the career paths, all the messaging, even the questions we ask on surveys, it’s all vetted through landscapers all across the country. We’re building this ourselves and I think that’s the part I really like the most. It is our voice and our pride.”
Currently, more than 120 companies have given to IGI and Henriksen says the goal is to raise $10 million over the next five years.
“As clichéd as it sounds, you can give any amount,” Fraynd said. “It all matters. Some people have given as little as $100…Then there’s been a company that does million dollars in sales and gives a $1,000 and those are awesome. That would be fantastic but if you can only give $100 that’s really good too.”
Henriksen confirms that any amount of financial support is welcome, but to be considered a donor, companies must contribute $500 annually.
“We ask companies to give as generously as they can and be at the table for (if) everyone does that, we will grow together,” Henriksen said.
Donors who support IGI receive a number of perks including enhanced listings on the job board and Find-a-Pro tool, customizable videos for recruitment and content to post on social media.
While any company can donate to IGI, landscaping businesses need to be NALP members in order to become more involved.
“Really all you have to do is raise your hand and say, ‘I want to help,’” Fraynd said. “So, it’s really quite easy to get involved once you’re in the association and probably go to one meeting or reach out to me, and I could try to connect you as well so there’s tons of ways to do it.”
Plans for the future
Both Fraynd and Henriksen agree that it will probably be a number of years before measurable and lasting changes are noticeable in the labor and consumer markets, but there are still plenty of small victories to celebrate along the way.
Simply having companies begin to rally around IGI and work together is what Henriksen considers the initiative’s greatest success so far, but she says it’s hard to pick just one.
As IGI proceeds into 2018, new research on target recruitment and the value of landscape enhancements will be conducted, as well as media campaigns on the benefits of outdoor living.
IGI has short- and long-term goals in place to measure its success, but it has no plans of stopping once it reaches any of these objectives.
“The IGI will operate in perpetuity,” Henriksen said. “The need is too great for us ever not to have a public facing presence. For instance, other industries that struggle to fill vacant positions are spending millions of dollars to attract many of the same people we want to work in this industry. If we are silent and lack a presence, we will never make a dent in the workforce challenge. Similarly, if we don’t represent the importance of the work our professionals do, activists and others will attempt to speak for us and that is unacceptable.”