As NALP’s Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program™ has continued to gain traction with companies across the country signing on, there has been increased interest in how to choose the right people to participate in the program. Many companies are starting out with a small number of apprentices—often two or three—to see how it goes but are looking for the best ways to make that selection. They want to know: How do I choose the right apprentice?
We spoke to two companies who are using the program and asked them to share their best tips on how to narrow down the selection.
Choosing a Landscape Apprentice: Make Sure They Qualify
The very first thing you should do in narrowing your pool of candidates for the Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program is to make sure they meet all of the necessary criteria, says Joe Lewis, account manager for Environmental Management Inc. (EMI), based in Plain City, Ohio.
In order to become an eligible apprentice, applicants must be 16 years or older, provide proof of completion of high school (GED or equivalent), be eligible to work in the US, be able to pass substance abuse screening (if required by employer), and be physically able to perform duties of a landscape professional.
Dan Eichenlaub, president of Eichenlaub Inc., in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, adds that it also makes sense for companies to screen for individuals who they feel are going to be able to fulfill the apprenticeship requirements. The truth is, not everyone is suited for the classroom learning that is a required of the program. Apprentices must complete three online courses, totaling 144 hours of practical instruction. It’s important that apprentices not only have the physical willingness and ability to complete landscaping tasks but that they also have the willingness and ability to complete the educational component, as well.
Choosing a Landscape Apprentice: Think of it Like Hiring
It’s important not to choose individuals for the Landscape Management Apprenticeship Program simply based on their interest level. You should think of it like hiring. This is true even if they’re already employees at your company (and thus have already technically been “hired”).
“Just like you’d do with the interview and hiring process, you should have a pool of people and you should choose the best,” says Eichenlaub. “It should be based upon who you think is most qualified and best-suited for the program. After all, you’re investing time and money into that person because you believe in them.”
Lewis agrees. EMI has formed an apprenticeship selection panel. Individuals on that panel are able to ask potential candidates questions during an interview process.
“My advice is to keep it to three questions per person on the panel or it can become overwhelming,” Lewis suggests. “Keep the questions simple, such as ‘Tell me why you’re interested in the Apprenticeship Program?’ Their motivation for wanting to become an apprentice can be very telling. Is it just about earning more money, or do they have a stronger desire than that?”
Lewis says it also helps to develop your own criteria for what you want to get out of the Apprenticeship Program—and ask questions about that. For instance, if it is your goal to hire better-qualified and better-trained people in order to strengthen your company’s safety record, then you might ask: “How do you feel that you can impact our culture of safety?” Lewis says it’s also beneficial to ask candidates about personal goals and expectations.
Choosing a Landscape Apprentice: Be Selective about Your Panel
While you’re being thoughtful about who you take on as an apprentice, you should also be selective about the people you choose to be on your selection panel, says Lewis. This group should be the top people in your company.
“In order to be eligible for our apprenticeship selection panel, they have to at least meet the criteria for the Apprenticeship Program themselves—that should be a given,” says Lewis. “You basically want to choose people who are going to be able to identify the best candidates for this program and in order for them to do that, they have to know what to look for. In other words, they have to be amongst the best at your company.”