For Britt Wood, it’s not so much that it’s good to be back – it’s good to start.
Wood, CEO of the National Association of Landscape Professionals, took over NALP in the fall of 2019. At the time NCLC began, event organizers postponed the originally scheduled event in the state of Michigan – COVID-19 has forced the event to an online format for the past two years. Wood said he was disappointed when they had to cancel in 2020, and then he was equally disappointed last year when they couldn’t host at Virginia Tech, his undergraduate alma mater.
So Wood’s first in-person trip to the NCLC comes at North Carolina State University, where the competition got off to a strong start after Thursday morning’s opening ceremonies.
READ MORE: Britt Wood was named CEO in 2019 | NCLC has been moved to a virtual platform in the past two years | Listen to our podcast on how the online platform will work in 2021
“I heard about this event while working in another industry at another association, how awesome it was,” Wood said. “I’m going to be here all the time. I will check as many events as possible. I love the enthusiasm of children.
— Hoffman Nursery (@GrassSolutions) March 17, 2022
Wood said the competition is currently hovering around 500 entrants, while the NCLC peaked at 800. Some schools were unable to commit in the winter when registration and hotels opened for the event. Even still, he said it was refreshing to see so many schools at the event.
“We had a few schools that just weren’t going to be able to come because of COVID…but we have two schools that came that made such a big effort to get here that they literally have to stay in Virginia and then come to Carolina of the North,” Wood said. “Are you talking about dedication? It’s about an hour (by car). It’s just awesome. I think that shows how much schools love this event. It’s so important to them.
A CRITICAL ELEMENT? NETWORKING (updated 3/17 12:00 EST): The event continued on Thursday with the job fair in the morning. Wood praised the NALP team for putting together two great virtual programs for the past two NCLC events, but “you just can’t substitute in person.”
The ability to meet potential employers in person is an important part of the event, Wood said. With 31 competitive events, there are plenty of opportunities to win big, but he thinks connecting with someone who could be a resource in the industry is huge, especially for the underclass or juniors.
“It’s fun to go to a competition, but at the end of the day…when you connect with potential employers, you now have the opportunity to build relationships with people who can shelter over time” , Wood said. “I think that’s an essential part of it.
Wood added that the job fair is also exciting for the companies that attend. With so much work to do at home, he said it was easy for employers to get bogged down in the nuances of day-to-day work. This gives them the opportunity to disconnect from everyday life and talk more globally about their company with potential employees.
“They’re energized seeing these young people,” Wood said. “They’re excited. I think it’s a great reminder for them.
NETWORKING AFTER NCLC (updated 3/17 2:30 a.m. EST): Jackie Hales has been on both sides of the table at the NCLC career fair – she was a student at one point but now works in human resources at Brookstone Landscape and Designwhich is based in Lynnwood, Washington.
She said she now understands the value of the networking component, but wished she knew how to keep in touch with people after the event was over. She hopes the students will stay in touch for months to come.
READ MORE: What do students expect from employers? “The opportunity to be creative.”
“I would have liked to network better and keep in touch with some of the people I had met during the competition,” Hales said. “Networking got me my last job and it got me my current job. I think it’s important to find people in the industry that you connect with and that you stay in touch throughout your career.”
Hales recommends sending follow-up emails once every few months or even once or twice a year to strong job fair contacts.
HARD WORK PAYS OFF (updated 3/17 2:30 PM EST): Many landscape contractors tell Roger Phelps that they can’t make their guys show up for work. Here at NCLC, Phelps – the head of corporate communications at STIHLthe platinum sponsor of the event, is blown away that students can party for St. Patrick’s Day or lie on a beach for Spring Break.
Instead, they are at NCLC, competing and networking with others in the green industry.
“What does this say about our industry and the future of our industry?” said Phelps. “Isn’t it cool to be in an industry that is so invested in its future that we can put on this event?”
— NALP (@the_nalp) March 17, 2022
This is the 19th NCLC event for Phelps, who said virtual offerings are good stopgap options but cannot replace the experience of an in-person event. Take for example the small engine event organized by STIHL: no, some students may never need to repair an engine, but if they become managers, they should know the value of a qualified technician and what that they make.
Phelps also specifically mentioned Factory ID events and Operation Truck & Trailer Operation, where two-person tandems are tasked with taking a written test and maneuvering a truck and trailer through a course of obstacles. Plus, there’s the “Super Bowl” of events – Landscape Plant Installation, where all teams cheer and cheer on their teammates by placing a variety of grass, mulch, plants and more into the landscape.
The experiences mimic those they’ll have in the real-life workforce, and Phelps said it’s impressive for employers to see that.
“Let’s face it: the practical element is so important,” Phelps said. “If (students) can say they participated in this event, most employers understand what that means. Not only do they have the academic intelligence, but they have the practical intelligence in the pressure cooker that is this event. The fact that they made it through this event says a lot about them.”
DIVERSIFY THE FIELD (updated 3/17 5:30 PM EST): Wood took notice when North Dakota State University’s all-female team won the cheering contest during the opening ceremonies.
After the ceremony, Wood said it was a priority for the NALP to showcase more women in the industry. He cited one of the recent NALP studies which suggested that only 8% of the landscaping workforce was female, while 47% of the available workforce was female. .
It’s a jarring juxtaposition, and Wood hopes NALP can continue to change that.
He also mentioned engaging more historically black colleges and universities, which Wood said the NALP needs to work on to help increase diversity in the industry.
“Part of that is communicating with our members, which is, ‘Hey, where did you go to school? Are they on our NCLC list?” Wood said. “It’s going to take effort.”
Check back to Lawnandlandscape.com later for more National Collegiate Landscape Competition updates.