The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) has its sights set on the industry's workforce shortage. The Industry Growth Initiative (IGI) — a multifaceted strategic effort to grow the industry that financed by the NALP Foundation and an industry coalition — is an effort by the outdoor power equipment industry to grow and develop its trade and workforce. As part of that initiative, the association hosted the NALP workforce summit in February to bring together industry professionals and government representatives to work on solutions.
The challenges the industry faces are real. Attendees heard that the allotment of H-2B visas will be cut by 10 percent in the coming year, and that more than 71,000 full-time industry jobs went unfilled in 2017. To counter these trends, the NALP announced the launch of a new apprenticeship program, which is aimed at increasing interest in the industry among younger generations and so-called “career changers.” It also announced new relationships with the Student Conservation Association and the National Association of Workforce Boards to marshal resources that could aid in the industry’s efforts to attract new workers.
Here are some of the other highlights from February’s event.
The NALP partnered with Advanced Symbolics, an artificial intelligence research company, to conduct a study to find out what messages were resonating with people interested in the industry. It analyzed social media and website traffic to find the trends people were most interested in when searching for information on the topic.
The top finding was that personal relationships play the biggest role in influencing others to consider joining the industry. Parents, family and friends have a consistent and more impactful influence on kids. Also, younger generations are learning more about the industry from streaming videos on YouTube or Netflix, seeing firsthand what the jobs entail. The study found that educators such as teachers and guidance counselors had the opposite effect, pushing people away from the industry. They often pushed students to the plumbing industry because it had a viable apprenticeship program with high potential for professional growth.
Interestingly, the study also looked at key messages that most influenced job seekers. It found that younger kids are not as interested in making a lot of money or working their way up the corporate ladder, rather they are more interested in working outside and building creative projects with their hands.
For years, the landscape industry has relied on the H-2B visa program to recruit the workers needed to staff companies. The program grants people from other countries work sponsorship to enter the U.S. to complete seasonal work. However, over the years, the number of allotted visas has decreased.
This has heavily strained the workforce, leading many companies to deny work because they do not have the capacity. This is increasing the pressure to find new ways to diversify the workforce, including improving the H-2B visa program.
Part of the NALP's strategy includes reaching out to younger generations to educate them about what the industry does and how it benefits the environment, which is a key message that resonates with school-aged kids. A tactic that a few contractors have had success with is connecting with the local high school’s horticulture/agriculture instructor and going into the school to teach a class once a month.
Another tactic that has worked for other contractors has been offering a summer internship program. One speaker said that he offers a team of students the opportunity to take on their own project, from designing the landscape to building it. He said once they see the fruits of their labor, they feel a sense of pride. This further piques the interest of the kids.
Historically, the landscape and outdoor power equipment industry has been male dominated. It's a blue-collar industry that puts in a lot of hours and requires a lot of physical labor. With the workforce now shrinking, the industry needs to adapt. To diversify the workforce, underrepresented groups such as women, minorities, people with disabilities and veterans need to be included as potential candidates who can fill the thousands of unfilled positions. Businesses in the industry are searching for ways to be more inclusive and adaptable to peoples' needs.
Women at the conference expressed reasons why there are fewer women in the industry. However, they even offered solutions such as having women's clothing apparel as an option and having women's bathrooms in the shop. These two changes often make women feel more comfortable in the workplace, which helps encourage them to remain with the company.