Industry Professionals Inspired by Students’ Passion at NCLC Career Fair - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Industry Professionals Inspired by Students’ Passion at NCLC Career Fair

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

As soon as the doors opened, students dashed into to secure their seats for the opening ceremony of the  48th National Collegiate Landscape Competition, presented by NALP and powered by STIHL, on March 14.

This year’s NCLC is hosted by Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Dr. Michal Stark, associate dean of the College of Life Sciences told students they have the opportunity to be the best type of artists as their careers can bring untold beauty to landscapes.

Roger Phelps, corporate communications manager for STIHL, praised the students for choosing to invest in themselves by attending the competition. He says that the many sponsors and industry professionals at the event invest their time and money in NCLC because they are the future of the industry.

“We’re invested in you and there’s nothing more energizing than spending time with you,” Phelps says.

This year, 650 students from 50 different schools across the U.S. and Canada are competing in NCLC. Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture and Parkland College returned this year after a hiatus and University of Missouri and Fox Valley Technical College are attending for the first time.

The beloved roll call competition, judged by John Deere, featured BYU, Pennsylvania College of Technology, Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture and Fox Valley Technical College in the final four.

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

Instructor Chuck Stangel was the lone representative for Fox Valley and his cheer relied on the crowd helping him spell out the college’s initials. The students participated with gusto and Fox Valley won as the crowd favorite.

After the opening ceremony, students set out to make strong first impressions with various industry professionals, including contractor companies, suppliers and manufacturers.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet people from all across the country, all the companies’ internships, possible jobs,” says Devin Wunsch a sophomore at Illinois Central College, majoring in turf management. “It’s just endless possibilities.”

The convention center was jam-packed with students ready with resumes, eager to learn about what careers the industry has to offer them.

“It makes me feel good,” says Basia Morris-Bruton, a freshman at Cuyahoga Community College majoring in plant science and landscaping technology. “It’s nice they’re trying to foster our futures. It’s really nice to see so many people so passionate about plants. They’re just so happy.”

Even the students who already have internships or jobs lined up found value in the career fair.

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

Louis Milione, a junior at Williamson College of the Trades majoring in landscape construction management, says he’s keeping his options open for a full-time job when he graduates. Right now he’s leaning towards pursuing something in arboriculture as he loves the height and wants to keep on climbing.

“It’s always good to have contacts even if you don’t need them right then, you never know in the future,” Milione says. “Just coming here, get your name out there, get contacts and just build relationships.”

Many enjoyed the career fair as an opportunity to connect and network with others.

“It’s so awesome to see and reconnect with all the people at the career fair and continue to compete in events and grow relationships with those sponsors,” says Hannah Burton, a senior at Virginia Tech majoring in environmental horticulture.

Morris-Bruton says her goal with the event was to make connections so that at some point, when she is ready to branch out from her current job, she has people in her network to reach out to.

“My larger goal is more restoration in the Cleveland East Side and increase the quality of life for the East Side residents,” Morris-Bruton says.

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

Participating lawn and landscape companies came to the career fair with several different goals. Of course, the main priority was recruiting for internships and full-time positions.

Eric Arriaga, the talent acquisition partner for Mariani Premier Group, says they look for up-and-coming talent for future openings as well as more immediate opportunities with internships and introductory positions. This is the Mariani Premier Group’s second time attending with even more of their family of companies attending.

“Each company kind of has their own specialty,” Arriaga says. “So as I’m talking to people, and they mentioned something they’re really good at, I can say ‘Oh, you should talk to this company.’ So it’s been cool to not have cards to the vest and be able to share talent. To basically say, for the benefit of the student, ‘Oh, hey, you’d be a really good fit here.’ It’s been more cohesive for the students to not feel so closed off.”

Nubia Guiterrez, director of human resources for Mullin, based in St. Rose, Louisiana, says that they came with a very intentional focus on what they needed. She adds that the career fair also helps them know which schools they want to focus on recruiting. Guiterrez says it’s a huge mistake for contractors not to participate in this career fair.

 “I think that it’s super important because you want to always be accepting new talent,” Guiterrez says. “Not only that, but it’s a good brand recognition for you as well.”

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

Darby Gilbert, manager of corporate and talent acquisition for Landscape Workshop, based in Birmingham, Alabama, says aside from recruiting, they participate in the career fair to increase the visibility of their company and network.

“I think it’s important for students to be able to see all different facets of the industry,” Gilbert says. “You come to recruit, but you also come to collaborate. You come to see other people’s ideas and what they’re doing better and how you can potentially make your business better.”

Eliza Shorts, business developer for Southern Botanical, based in Dallas, Texas, says Southern Botanical also uses this event as a way to give back.

“I was a student at BYU, so being able to do what professionals did for me when I was a student, that’s what we want to replicate,” Shorts says. “That’s creating more passion. That’s connecting with people, helping them find a job, whether it’s with us or with other people.”

Randy Collins, project manager for The Pattie Group, Inc., based in Novelty, Ohio, says he has high hopes for the future of the industry.

“A lot of people are very passionate and driven and they want to be here, which we all know is not commonly the case with our labor issues,” Collins says. “So to see the drive and the passion in students is awesome.”

Collins says they talked to a number of promising students and they’ve been successful with bringing on new hires in the past.

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

Shorts and Gilbert both noted the open-mindedness of the students they spoke to.

“They could be studying plant soil science or they could be studying landscape architecture, and they’re open to any possibility within this industry,” Gilbert says. “Talking to students, no matter what their program affiliation is, their open-mindedness to all the different opportunities within the industry was a really cool thing to experience today.”  

Courtney Pohlit, director of human resources for Ruppert Landscape, based in Laytonsville, Maryland, says these students are assertive, eager and already very professional.

“They’re coming up to us, initiating conversation,” Pohlit says. “We’re not going after them. It’s been amazing. I feel like the students are just knocking it out of the park. They are after it. They’re ready to figure out what their career moves will be, looking into every opportunity and I’ve encouraged them to do that.”

Thank you to our elite partners STIHL, Stanley Black & Decker, Caterpillar and Aspire for supporting this event. Additionally, thank you to our Gold Partner, John Deere and all the other industry partners who help make NCLC possible.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.