Mason Shaffer says attending NALP’s “Student Career Days”—now the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC)—in 2007 and 2008 ultimately led to his full-time landscape career. Today, he is the senior garden designer for Blanchford Landscape Group and Shaffer says it was his interaction with Andy Blanchford, company owner, at the event that put that opportunity in motion.
At the event, Shafer—who was attending Brigham Young University – Idaho at the time—competed in estimating (construction and maintenance) and wood construction events. He says, “competing as a team among the best students in our industry elicited a sense of pride.”
We asked Shaffer to share three ways students and landscape business owners can get the most out of NCLC.
3 Ways to Get the Most Out of NCLC
#1. Make Connections
Shaffer says his best advice to students is to take the time to make connections.
“As a student I remember the energy of the event—it was electric,” he recalls. “It was a chance to see how vast and diverse the opportunities are in the industry. I would recommend that students connect with as many companies as possible—and gather business cards. Having allies in the industry will help you better position yourself throughout your career. Plus, these relationships have vastly more value and can last much longer than the cheap swag that the majority of students seem to rush for.”
An example of a successful connection is the one that Shaffer made with Blanchford in 2007 that led to his career in 2010.
#2. Look to the Long Term
Shaffer says it’s important to recognize that a connection made might not lead to a job overnight. His journey is an example of that. While this is something for students to remember, he says that this is also important advice for landscape companies who might give up after attending NCLC just once.
Shaffer advises that in order to truly get the most out of the event, they make NCLC attendance an ongoing effort.
“You might go one year, not connect with the right students, and then miss opportunities in the future if you make it a one-and-done thing,” Shaffer says. “Along those same lines, you might meet some of the best students, but they might already have an internship this year. Stay connected and give it time. I believe that recruiting is a long-term effort.”
#3. Participate in the Entire Event
When it comes to attending NCLC as a landscape business owner or manager, Shaffer says he would suggest staying to participate in more than just the career fair.
“I would recommend that companies participate in the entirety of the competition,” he says. “I’ve seen many companies just show up for the career fair and disappear. The career fair is quite valuable in that it exposes you to the best students in our industry. But the real benefit of NCLC, in my opinion, is the opportunity to support and further develop the connection with those students you have met. I believe students value—as I did in that position—being genuinely recruited based on how they are as individuals.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The National Collegiate Landscape Competition is an annual three-day powerhouse event that brings together the top landscape and horticulture students, top industry companies and dozens of the biggest industry manufacturers and suppliers. Each year more than 800 students from two- and four-year colleges demonstrate their skills in real-world, competitive events and network with top companies at the largest career fair in the industry.