NALP Foundation Lays the Groundwork for Industry Careers at SkillsUSA - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

We recently updated our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use this website, you acknowledge that our revised Privacy Policy applies.

NALP Foundation Lays the Groundwork for Industry Careers at SkillsUSA

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

2024 marks the NALP Foundation’s third year attending the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Atlanta as the industry pushes to bring a national landscape competition at the high school level.

SkillsUSA serves as a workforce development organization representing 130 in-demand occupational areas, from plumbing and carpentry to architectural drafting and heavy equipment operation.

Jenn Myers, executive director of the NALP Foundation & senior director of workforce development, says that the SkillsUSA organization helps young people prepare for careers with both hard and soft skills. Over half of the students in the organization go straight into the workforce after graduating high school.

“The students here are just so engaged, so mature, and so wanting to learn and be successful,” Myers says. “It’s so refreshing and exciting to be around the future generation and feel so good about it.”

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

More than 16,000 students, teachers, education leaders and representatives from 850 national corporations, trade associations, businesses and labor unions participated in this year’s event. Over 6,000 of those students competed in 115 hands-on skill and leadership competitions on June 26-27.

“We are so lucky to have this great event here in Atlanta,” says Mary Kay Woodworth, executive director of the Georgia Urban Ag Council. “We have so much opportunity here in the Southeast and have these students from all in the country here, being in our city, learning about our industry. We thought that this was going to be leaving Atlanta in 2028 and we’ve learned that it’s going to be here until 2033. I was talking to one of my board members earlier today, and he just was blown away. This is an unbelievable opportunity and the visibility we have in our own backyard is terrific.”

Tall oak trees served as a banner for a green sanctuary at the NALP Foundation’s booth, which stood out among mechanical behemoths like semi-trucks and tractors. SiteOne loaned the NALP Foundation a variety of plants to create a mini park on the show floor, including magnolias, hydrangeas, begonias, roses, ferns, and Korean boxwoods. Part of the goal of this design was to get visitors to think about who cares for these green spaces.

Students in their iconic crimson blazers, or blue or tan work clothes stepped into the space in wonder. Many expressed their love for plants and curiosity about the industry.

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

The booth featured volunteers from different industry companies. Ben Miller, a design intern with Ed Castro Landscape Inc., based in Roswell, Georgia, demonstrated his design skills on AutoCAD and colored some of his designs. He says many of the students he talked to have been very interested in his work. Some engineers and students studying architecture were familiar with the AutoCAD software while others were seeing it for the first time.

“Everything that we do is try to shape the land to be its most natural self and create spaces that not only look great but draw people into the area, which I think this booth has done a fantastic job,” Miller says.

Robert Bowers, P. ENG., vice president of engineering – hardscapes for the Concrete Masonry & Hardscapes Association (CMHA) says the booth is a good combination of the two associations’ focuses.

“It’s not just plants,” Bowers says. “It’s not just pavers. It’s an environment that we’re creating. I think it takes all the materials to achieve truly something that people like to see and like to live in.”

Photo: Josh Chalfant

Myers notes that one thing that stands out about the NALP Foundation’s booth is that there are people from 10 to 12 different companies coming together to volunteer.

“One of the things that makes our industry so unique, so inviting and so special is the way we network and collaborate,” Myers says.

Bowers says the students he talked to expressed an interest in working outside and creating something with permanence.

“I am starting to see more and more interest in I like to work with my hands,” Bowers says. “I like to see that I’ve accomplished something. I want to get outside of the standard cubicle model of being employed.”

Darby Gilbert, corporate and talent acquisition manager for Landscape Workshop, based in Birmingham, Alabama, who returned to SkillsUSA for her second year, says they’ve been able to build on last year’s efforts.

Photo: Jill Odom/NALP

“I think our industry is getting more and more traction as far as especially the crossover careers,” Gilbert says. “We’ve had a lot of conversations where it’s not just an introduction anymore. It is a conversation about the crossovers. People have heard of us now. People know what we’re doing now and it’s a conversation about a career.”

Mark Svozil, vice president and general manager with The Davey Tree Expert Company, based in Kent, Ohio, says this growing workforce can fill the vacancies landscape companies have.

“We need to start controlling our own destiny by looking at this available workforce that’s very talented, has a lot of energy and is willing to put in the effort,” Svozil says. “We have to do more.”

Aside from creating general awareness of the crossover careers in the landscape industry, the NALP Foundation is also working to have a national competition at SkillsUSA. First, at least 15 states need to conduct state competitions.

“Those competitions are all decided each year by the individual state directors in each state,” Myers says. “We have been working very closely with those connections to try to help them understand why they should be doing a state competition and also all the support that they would have in their local area.”

Currently, 14 states have shown interest in having a state landscape competition and seven have already done a state competition. Three years ago, Oklahoma was the only state doing a landscape competition.

“Part of our goal this week is to meet with additional state directors to help them understand and try to convince them to do this as well,” Myers says. “Also, to meet with different teachers and other education professionals to help them get excited about it because they have a tremendous amount of influence with their state directors in their states.”

Photo: Darby Gilbert

Myers says having a national competition is important from a visibility standpoint for the landscape industry.

“The end goal really is getting our industry taught in classrooms and having curriculum in classrooms that supports the work that we do,” Myers says. “Having the competitions at the state and national level help drive that.”

Industry professionals can get involved at the state level by contacting their SkillsUSA state directors.

“It’s one thing for us to send an email and then another member, but when you have three, four, five, six members all sending emails and saying, ‘You should be doing this,’ that’s when people start really to listen and take it seriously,” Myers says.

Svozil encourages other landscape professionals to also attend SkillsUSA, walk the floor and share with students the opportunities that the landscape industry offers.

“If you can’t be here, show your support financially to NALP so they can find ways to expand on what we’re doing,” Svozil says. “What’s already being done is amazing, but there are so many other ways that we can capture this audience by being creative but we got to have the financial support to do that.”

Thanks to all of our partners who helped during this year’s SkillsUSA!

  • Concrete Masonry & Hardscapes Association
  • Ed Castro Landscape
  • Environmental Management, Inc.
  • Georgia Urban Ag Council
  • HighGrove Partners, LLC
  • LandCare LLC
  • Landscape Workshop
  • Pacific Landscape Management
  • Plants Creative Landscapes
  • Pro Cutters Lawnscapes
  • Russell Landscape Group
  • SiteOne Landscape Supply
  • The Davey Tree Expert Company

If you are interested in engaging with SkillsUSA at the national or state level or want more information, please contact Jenn Myers or Pam Moore.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.