Former NCLC competitors share their past experiences

Nathan Gantt won the 2017 NCLC small engine repair competition. Photo Jill OdomNathan Gantt won the 2017 NCLC small engine repair competition.
Photo Jill Odom

The National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC) came from humble beginnings, but it hasn’t managed to last 43 years based on pure nostalgia. This event has been going strong and is continually growing due to the multiple benefits it provides, for both the students attending and the companies involved.

Two former NCLC competitors who now have jobs in the green industry shared with TLC what NCLC means to them and why it is so important for the industry.

Both Nathan Gantt and Lucas Yanders attended NC State University. Gantt graduated in 2017 and Yanders graduated in 2018. They heard about NCLC through their professors and peers.

Gantt saw NCLC as an opportunity to travel and learn more about other climates and other schools. He participated all four years with NC State and during his last competition he took home first place in small engine repair.

“My favorite part was probably getting to meet a lot of the other schools and a lot of the other teams and just getting to see how our school’s curriculum stacks up compared to other schools,” Gantt says.

Lucas Yanders won third place in the compact excavator event in 2017. Photo: NC StateLucas Yanders won third place in the compact excavator event in 2017.
Photo: NC State

Yanders attended two NCLC competitions and says he wishes he had known about the event when he first started. At his most recent NCLC, he competed in the hardscape installation and irrigation troubleshooting events. In 2017, he won third place in the compact excavator event.

“All the competitions are something I really enjoy and do every day,” Yanders says. “You get along with everybody because they like the same things that you do.”

Both Gantt and Yanders went to the career fair that is hosted during NCLC and Gantt says that is how he found his current job.

“The career fair at NC State doesn’t supply the same opportunities because the landscaping companies in our area are not really looking to hire college graduates,” Gantt says.

Gantt is now a foreman for Bartlett Tree Experts and leads crews in pruning. He is also training to be the local office safety coordinator. His favorite aspect about the green industry is how diverse it is.

Yanders didn’t use the career fair to look for future jobs like most students do, but he still enjoyed it as he was able to catch up with industry peers and check out the competition. Yanders has loved landscaping all his life, as his father owns a landscaping company and has been taking him to jobs since he could walk and talk.

“My favorite aspect about working in the green industry is seeing a project start to finish,” Yanders says. “Making something that doesn’t look that great look a lot better after you leave than when you started.”

Now, Yanders is co-owner of Pittsboro Landscape Supply where he handles the operations side of the business, ordering materials, sending invoices and handling any other matter that needs to be taken care of. He still works with his father’s landscaping company as well.

As for what they learned from NCLC and what they think other students gain from attending this event, Gantt says he learned how to work together as a team and how to step into a leadership role.

“I think students gain a sense of pride in their schools and that feeling of being part of something so large that you usually wouldn’t have the opportunity to be a part of without being in a college,” Gantt says.

Yanders also competed in the hardscape installation event. Photo: NC StateYanders also competed in the hardscape installation event.
Photo: NC State

Yanders says he learned many new techniques while at NCLC and that other students gain a lot of knowledge as well by attending.

“Some people don’t realize how large our industry is,” Yanders says. “NCLC gives a huge scope of how huge the landscape/horticulture industry is and it’s not just mowing lawns and blowing off sidewalks. There’s a lot more to it. It’s great for people in our field to understand.”

If current landscaping companies have every wondered if the career fair is worth attending for recruiting, both Gantt and Yanders say they would definitely come if they had their own company.

“Employees are huge,” Yanders says. “Our company and the landscaping company both have hard time finding qualified employees that are well-trained, that have good backgrounds, that have good references. It’s really hard to even keep an employee like that because they know what they have, and the career fair gives you everything you want just right there in front of you. You have a whole crowd of people who are qualified to do anything you would want them to do.”

This year’s NCLC kicks off today at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and runs until the closing ceremony on March 23.

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