The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) is a trade association that represents nearly 100,000 landscape professionals in the U.S., Canada and overseas. The group’s goal is to help its members achieve success through a variety of educational, training, certification and accreditation programs. The NALP also serves as one of the industry’s chief advocates on Capitol Hill, working on measures to expand the workforce and inform its best practices.
Britt Wood has a unique view to the industry. He took on the role of NALP CEO in 2019 and is charged with ensuring that the association remains timely and relevant to its members. While this includes people of all ages and experience, Wood must keep a keen eye on young people entering the workforce and the generational shifts that will come to define the future of its work. Out Working spoke to Britt about how Millennials and Gen Zers may change — or be changed — by the socioeconomics of lawncare.
Out Working: How do you perceive the growth of the landscape and lawncare industry and is there any room for Millennials and Gen Z to join its ranks?
We have a huge need for folks that want to work in the landscape and lawncare industry. The industry continues to grow. During the pandemic, there has a been a boom for residential business. A majority of our residential landscapers have seen record high years, due in part because people are spending more time at home and working from home. We continue to see a desire for people to want to hire professionals to work on their property. It saves people time, and ultimately, a professionally kept lawn looks really nice.
OW: How is the NALP helping bring younger generations into the fold?
As an industry, we desperately need to get more involved and draw more attention to our work, and this certainly includes the younger generations. We want to show more about how the business works and just how well you can do in it financially and career-wise. The NALP hosts a young professionals network for Millennials and Gen Z, for example, to communicate with each other and learn more about the industry and how to succeed in it. We work with groups like the National FFA Organization and SkillsUSA that get involved at the high school level to enable students to learn about all of the various aspects of the industry, from working on the front lines in manual labor to careers in finance and operations. We also emphasize the technological portion of the job as a way to get more young people interested. The technology is evolving, and it enables people to become more efficient and make more money.
OW: Is the industry succeeding in transferring knowledge down to the younger generations?
Like most industries, we’re not immune to the challenges that come with an aging workforce. The nice thing is that many of the companies owned by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have been able to get family involved in the business, so the younger generations are working with and learning from them. We have a little bit of an advantage there in lawncare and landscaping so we’re a bit better off than other industries, but we still do have a challenge. We have to work hard as an industry to ensure the next generations are equipped with the knowledge they need to be successful. This is a great industry around sharing. You really see people take newcomers under their wings and help them succeed.
Part of the role of the NALP is to facilitate this knowledge transfer from one generation to the next. Our Trailblazers program links folks in our Young Professionals Network to more seasoned veterans. We continue to work with universities and the National Collegiate Landscape Competition that brings together people from different generations. We can assist in laying out a career path for young people by helping them become certified or by joining our apprenticeship programs. We even have a young professionals podcast and we’re working on a repository of video training for newcomers and veterans alike. The NALP wants to be the resource for these new generations entering the industry.
OW: What trends are currently shaping the industry that younger generations should pay attention to?
They are the same trends that everyone in the industry should be aware of, no matter their age. The work is becoming more technical and more digital, and social media skills are critical. Equipment manufacturers, such as AriensCo, are doing a great job of being innovative around power sources and introducing electric equipment. The continued evolution of automated equipment will make the work more efficient and also address some of the labor challenges the industry is having.
Digital skills are crucial, too. If you want to reach customers you have to be social-media savvy, you can’t survive without it. There is still a place for traditional advertising, door hangers, etc., but drawing customers through social media is increasingly critical to success. The technology in how you lay out the landscaping and lawncare work for customers is much more digital now, too. A lot more of our forward-thinking members are using iPads to show customers designs and they are making changes on the fly. They’re also using drones to survey the land, taking photos and creating 3D images to show customers. It’s very impressive to customers and something they will want to see more of in the future.
OW: How about the younger generations of lawn industry customers, do they have unique demands that the industry is responding to?
Customers are still looking for lawns that look good and are easy to maintain. It’s a bit of a misnomer that Millennials and Gen Z are only moving to cities and living in spaces with no yards. We’re seeing a pretty big number of Millennials that want a big yard and want that green space. Millennials are purchasing more homes, and they are a generation that is very busy and works very hard. Hiring a professional is a no-brainer for them. We are seeing a trend in that many folks are looking for native species of plants and turf, and the native stuff performs better in many cases. That does require us to have a greater depth of knowledge about this topic to share with customers.
These generations are also very concerned with climate change. Smart irrigation and the optimization of resources is important to our work, so this requires landscapers to be knowledgeable about the best practices the industry has to conserve water and energy. We also continue to educate our customers about the benefits of an efficient, healthy landscape, and how it can help play a part in absorbing CO2.
OW: Millennials in particular pay close attention to the ingredients of products they buy, and organic products have taken off over the last decade. Do these preferences translate to the lawn industry?
Millennials are certainly the generation in which this trend has taken root. What it comes down to is educating folks on what can and can’t be accomplished with different products. The NALP works with the EPA to understand what’s best for the environment. It’s a continual research and education process. We have a level of awareness about organics, but some education also needs to happen to say that by utilizing a particular herbicide or pesticide, it’s actually more helpful for humans. The proof isn’t really there that organic is much better, and it’s certainly more expensive. Ultimately, people want a lawn that looks great and performs well and isn’t harmful to the environment, which is something we are always looking to help them accomplish.
OW: What do you want younger generations to know about the lawn industry?
They should clearly understand the opportunity that lawncare and landscaping provides. It’s a great opportunity for someone who likes to work outside and wants to work with people. They should come with an understanding of social media and how to communicate with potential customers. Also, this is becoming a more technical industry, so they should understand how we are utilizing technology be more eco-conscious, and more efficient, and ultimately make more money. The NALP has a number of resources to help them get started, grow a company and connect with other professionals. It’s a great time to become a lawncare professional.
To learn more about the National Association of Landscape Professionals, visit www.landscapeprofessionals.org