Wrapping up: What you can implement today that will help the green industry tomorrow

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Updated Mar 13, 2020
Photo: Beth Presley/Total Landscape CarePhoto: Beth Presley/Total Landscape Care

As discussed yesterday, this year’s National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) Workforce Summit yielded numerous discussions on what we in the green industry can do to help combat the growing labor crisis in the US.

Several topics were covered during the event, so take a look at the highlights of the remaining sessions. 

Partnering with local FFA chapters

Besides the obvious reasons for targeting FFA students due to their inclination toward technical work and their skillsets in these areas, experts agreed that it’s also beneficial to focus on these students in particular because they are taught soft skills and have strong value systems reiterated to them.Tlc Part Two

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, many landscaping companies are searching for new hires that exemplify core values, as opposed to industry skills.

When reaching out to these chapters, focus first on educating the educators and ask the FFA advisor what you can do to help him/her, and take time to educate him/her on what all the green industry can offer students.

Another way to pique the interest of these students is to offer them hands-on opportunities to let them get a realistic view of what goes into this industry and what they can get out of it.

Along with talking to the educators about the importance of the green industry, don’t forget to talk to the parents as well. Parents of this generation have proven to have a huge influence on which career students pursue, so taking time to educate the parents on what we do and how it can become a viable career option could help leaps and bounds.

Apprenticeship programs and working with local schools

With NALP’s introduction of the Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program last year, more companies are seeing the benefit of implementing this program into their company, but how do you start?

The first step is to enroll your company in the program on NALP’s website. For non-members, the fee is $1,000 and for members, it’s $500. After this, NALP says they can handle the bulk of the work for you, and they will be the ones to work through the red tape.

Russell Wood, executive director for the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association, learns more about working with local schools. Photo: NALPRussell Wood, executive director for the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association, learns more about working with local schools.
Photo: NALP

Another important takeaway from this program is that students who complete it will earn 14 credit hours that can be used for school after the program is completed, which is an excellent aspect to highlight when posting job descriptions.

Many companies are already working with their local schools to bring interested students into the industry, but for those wanting to but not yet doing so, how do you start?

First of all, you can’t be afraid to work hard in this process because, in the end, it will yield a great return on investment (ROI). It’s also important to know how to work strategically when recruiting. Once you start working at the schools, you’ll begin to see an influx of interest in the industry.

Experts agree that you should treat your relationship with the school like a fostering program, in that you take time to work with the students in a scholastic setting but also in a real-world, hands-on way to give them work experience and knowledge.

Be careful when teaching because most of these students are starting from the very beginning and won’t have the green industry common knowledge that you have, so go in with no assumptions.

Once in the schools, be sure to use your connections to other businesses and resources to grow the program, expand your reach and possibly get donors for training material.

Creating company culture and career laddering

Creating an alluring company culture is something the majority of companies strive for, and one recommendation made was to create a culture that puts employees first.

Another good way to ensure your company’s culture is inviting is to assign each new employee a mentor on their first day, as this person can show them the ropes, teach them procedures and help them get acclimated to the workplace more easily. Along those same lines, make sure that your employees have everything they need to succeed on day one, such as appropriately fitting gear.

Cole Weller, president and co-owner at Weller Brothers, discusses the topic of career ladders. Photo: NALPCole Weller, president and co-owner at Weller Brothers, discusses the topic of career ladders.
Photo: NALP

Conducting anonymous employee surveys can also help you gauge how content your employees are in the workplace since more people are willing to be honest when they know their name isn’t attached to it.    

Hosting celebrations and giving out awards is also a great way to make employees feel valued, and for the companies actively using social media, giving employees a shout out online can help show your employees and customers that you are proud of their accomplishments.

When developing a career ladder, make sure it’s visible to all prospects and staff, and understand how different individuals want to advance. It’s also good to keep in mind that not every employee sees advancement and career success in the same manner.

While one person might constantly seek promotion opportunities, another could be content with the job they have because they love it and can do it to the best of their ability.

When performing employee reviews, be sure you are able to monitor and document core competencies so you can track the overall trend of how your employees are doing.

The future of work

When looking at the current labor shortage, there’s no doubt that we need to look to the future generations for hiring, but as we just discussed, Gen Z might not be able to fully relate to the term “landscape contractor.” Instead, it was suggested that we change the terminology to environmental resource managers, as this speaks more directly to the impact the green industry has on the world.

By changing this terminology, it’s possible that we can relate more heavily to the younger generations, as we are speaking their language and are showing that our jobs help make people feel good about their yards and their effect on the environment.

Another task at hand is how landscaping companies can fully utilize technology to help solve the workforce issue, and this is where robotics and other green industry technologies can shine.

Coming back to company culture, it’s important that you are able to attract the right type of staff. It’s possible that your employees might no longer be the traditional horticulturist, but instead, they might be tech-savvy, young and passionate people wanting to be incorporated into our industry.

Also, take a look at the type of staff you currently have and consider that the concept of all hourly employees might soon go to the wayside. Instead, it’s possible that you could bring in someone from a local high school or community college that can come in to manage these newer resources and technologies, but they wouldn’t be constrained to the same hours and pay scale as other workers.

Grab bag

Finishing off the discussion was the grab bag group, which took a look at the industry as a whole.

Overwhelmingly, the top concern dealt with industry standards and our ability to enforce and hold people to a higher standard. It’s true what they say that one bad apple ruins the bunch, and when we have these poor examples of our industry running rampant, it can make us all look bad.

To take this on, we need to establish better accountability measures to help better professionalize the field and ensure we are treating our staff as professionals.

We also need to address the hierarchy of industry professionals and stop looking at one as better than the other. We are all professionals and are all experts in our respective fields, which means we are all on a level playing field. We need to work hard to ensure we are all being respected and treated professionally by other green industry stewards since we are all in the same fight together.

Along those same lines, we need to make sure the industry is speaking with a unified voice that can uplift the field. This, experts agreed, will help institute the standards we need to professionalize the field.

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