Jenn Myers is the Senior Director of Workforce Development for the National Association of Landscape Professionals
How did you start working with landscapers?
I started out working as the recruiting director for a large, full-service landscape contracting company.
Then I worked as a recruiting consultant for different landscape contractors throughout the country, sourcing candidates for full-time positions.
I also traveled to colleges and universities on behalf of the groups.
I liked working with companies from different parts of the country because I talked to a wide variety of people.
Eventually I wanted to lead national efforts, and was lucky to create an opportunity with the NALP.
Why did you pick the landscaping industry as a career?
Growing up my dad’s hobby was propagating, growing, and selling azaleas.
I helped him, begrudgingly, for many years.
I remember wanting chores that seemed more feminine, like laundry or dishes, but planting and pruning was my chore.
During my college years I needed a summer job, and my dad suggested applying at a local nursery.
I applied, and was hired to unload trucks but moved to the sales floor in just a month.
I enjoyed selling annuals, perennials, and ornamental grasses, and even took a horticulture class the next semester at Virginia Tech.
I ended up loving it, and added Horticulture as a second degree (my other was Environmental Science).
I continued working at the nursery during the summer, and interned with the landscape contractor who hired me as recruiting director after graduation.
So the job just kind of found me, at my dad‘s recommendation!
When did you begin working with the NALP?
While studying horticulture at Virginia Tech I went to student career days and got involved in what is now the group’s National Collegiate Landscape Competition.
As I got into my career I participated in volunteer leadership, ran different committees and eventually became a chairperson for the association.
I also attended renewal and remembrance events, national landscape conventions, and about four years ago decided I wanted a full-time career with the association.
Luckily my expertise in workforce development matched the NALP’S growing focus in that area.
Describe your role.
I manage the National Collegiate Landscape Competition and I am the primary relationship holder with all of our colleges and student chapter members.
I also reach out to those who have not yet found the industry, mainly middle and highschoolers, career changers, and the public in general.
We began recruiting efforts in grade schools about 4 years ago.
Our goal is to educate and help them understand that our industry is a professional industry, made up of educated, dedicated, and hard-working individuals.
When I explain the opportunities in the industry, their ears perk up and their eyes light up.
High School teachers often tell me they have students who are perfect for landscaping careers, because they like the outdoors and would enjoy the science, technology, and math involved.
Why focus on younger students?
Other trades have been recruiting at these levels for a long time, and many high schoolers are encouraged to launch careers in things like plumbing or electric.
Some educators do not even consider landscaping a legitimate career.
We’re fighting that perception.
We have come a long way, and have awesome resources and results to show from it.
It is a long game and really requires all of our members to care about getting the message out.
Why do people have a negative perception toward a landscaping career?
We are in an industry that is very visible to the average person, particularly homeowners.
They see people doing the work, and assume it is not hard. A lot of homeowners even do landscape work themselves, whether it’s mowing the grass or doing small or large installs.
There is a big difference though between what the average person does in their yard and what landscape professionals do, and we all must educate clients about the specialized education and training that landscape and lawn care professionals have.
I equate it to playing basketball.
A lot of people have a basketball hoop and shoot around in the backyard, but that does not make them a professional basketball player.
How can we elevate the public perception of our industry?
The NALP is working to raise the level of professionalism across the industry through certification programs, business education and professional development, and safety training awards.
We also run national consumer campaigns to help educate the public about the environmental benefits of managed landscapes, and how trained professionals can help.
We must also be vocal about how great the job is and how much we enjoy the connections we make.
This helps attract people, particularly young people.
Other trades are already doing this, which is why people see them as good career paths.
Students, teachers, and parents don’t understand how landscaping is a way to make a living, have good benefits, get upward mobility, and be satisfied with the work you do every day.
We are firm believers that if people can find their way to the industry and learn about it, they will stay.
Why is it so hard to recruit these days?
Recruiting is always a challenge, this is not a new thing.
Some in the business say it is an issue with the younger generation, or it is because people don’t want to work, but I don’t agree with them at all.
The generation before us said the exact same thing. The sentiment has always been here and always will be.
There really are awesome people out there who are willing to work hard, but they are working in other industries.
We need them in our industry.
We are not competing with unemployment benefits, we are competing with other employers.
It takes a lot to make that shift though. By paying well, explaining different career paths, offering employee benefits, and providing a work life balance, are all ways to attract new people to the industry.
Businesses owners who do not offer these things risk falling behind other companies and industries.
Any other thoughts on developing the landscaping workforce?
Workforce development is something we all need to be focused on. The NALP works to provide landscape companies with a variety of resources to help promote their career paths and recruit new employees, and many of those tools are available online. Events like career fairs and our National Apprenticeship Program are other programs landscape professionals can take advantage of to build a winning team.