The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) is the national trade association that represents nearly 100,000 landscape industry professionals in the United States, Canada and abroad. Member companies specialize in lawncare, landscape design and installation, landscape maintenance, tree care, irrigation and water management, and interior plantscaping. In February, the NALP hosted a summit to explain how its Industry Growth Initiative—a multifaceted strategic effort to grow the industry that is financed by the NALP Foundation and an industry coalition—is working to improve workforce development. Part of the Industry Growth Initiative's goal is to raise $10 million over the next five years to help tackle the workforce shortage.
Out Working sat down with Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the NALP, to talk about what the organization is doing to improve workforce development and how it keeps the fires burning for the landscaping industry.
Missy Henriksen: Our goal is to attract 100,000 men and women to the profession by 2025. To do that, we have to ensure that our messaging is helping people understand the profession, and we need it to reach the right audiences: students, parents, guidance counselors, career changers, veterans and women, to name a few. We want people to know that there are opportunities for true career advancement and the possibility to make good money in this industry.
The landscape industry is competing with other industries to attract workers. This doesn't just affect the contractors, but also the suppliers and manufacturers. We need each and every part of our industry to be healthy for the industry as a whole to be healthy and operating at its full potential.
MH: We are creating a movement. At the event in February, we really mobilized attendees and got them excited about what we're doing to provide a strong, credible voice for the landscape profession. We're really doing a lot to unify the industry. We're working on encouraging people to not just work on what's best for their company, but what's best for the industry. Instead of people going to high schools to talk about "my company" offering the apprenticeship program, we need them to talk about how the industry offers apprenticeship programs.
We expect buy-in because contractors are recognizing that we need to stand together against other industries that are already unified in their efforts to attract men and women to their fields. The message is resonating that the industry must collaborate to solve the workforce crisis.
MH: I think it has been really powerful for both parties. I think both sides walked away from the event with valuable information. We created an apprenticeship program with the Department of Labor (DOL). It was good to have representatives from the government in the room, interacting with our industry professionals and seeing how they will use the materials and the apprenticeship program to their advantage.
Having the DOL at the conference was very valuable. They are trying to listen to business leaders and trying to make effective changes. Nicholas Geale, chief of staff for the DOL, was very open with the attendees, acknowledging some of the Department’s archaic and ill-intended requirements, such as the 90-page application to register for the apprenticeship program. He even mentioned how absurd it was that the DOL still requires landscapers to put an ad in the newspaper when applying for H-2B visa workers. Policy officials need to hear from professionals so they really understand the impact of their actions and non-actions.
MH: The energy for us at the NALP comes from the members we serve and the type of palpable excitement that was demonstrated at the conference. That fuels us at the staff level. When one attendee made the comment that he would rather come to an event like this on solving the workforce crisis a couple times a year than go to most any other meeting, that was amazing to hear that level of passion. We want to capitalize on that.
"Our responsibility is to make sure that our industry has a voice."
In terms of the DOL, to be a player in this space, industries need to remain connected to the federal government. So the DOL and Department of Education are the two most important organizations for us. Our responsibility is to make sure that our industry has a voice. Our budding relationships with the National Association of Workforce Boards and the Student Conservation Society are two huge steps forward for us. We're still new in this space, but we’ve accomplished a lot in a short period of time. We just have to keep our foot on the gas pedal.