Skyler Westergard’s Path in Nurturing Talent in the Landscape Industry - 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.

Skyler Westergard’s Path in Nurturing Talent in the Landscape Industry

Skyler Westergard’s journey through the landscape industry has given him multiple viewpoints including that of a student, a technician, a landscape company owner, a branch manager and a professor.

Now the learning and development specialist at LandCare, LLC, based in Frederick, Maryland, Westergard says his foundation as a college professor and working as a branch manager for LandCare has enabled him to teach a different demographic in a business environment.

“I wouldn’t be qualified to do what I’m doing now without those past experiences, and that’s what’s interesting is my career path,” Westergard says. “When I look back on it, it looks nothing like what I thought it was when I was a college student.”

The Early Days

At the young age of three, Westergard was already showing an interest in landscaping.

His love for the industry started with planting yellow gladiolus bulbs as a boy. Like many others, Westergard began mowing lawns for a neighbor when he was 11 or 12.

“I mowed his lawn for $5 a week, which at that age, I didn’t have any money, so it felt like it felt like a good amount of money,” Westergard says.

As he grew older, he started taking on more landscape maintenance jobs, including apartment complexes and some hotels.

Westergard says after growing up with a fascination for landscaping and horticulture, getting to attend college classes where he was able to learn from experts was surreal.

“I had a fantastic experience in college,” Westergard says. “I had really great professors who mentored me, who fed that fire that had been burning for a long time, that believed in me, that pushed me and held me to a high level of accountability.”

While attending BYU-Idaho, Westergard worked as a landscape maintenance laborer with the campus grounds crew. He says it was a great experience as he made good friends with people on the crews and loved mowing lawns and planting flowers.

Westergard competed in NCLC his senior year.

“It was a very good connection between what I was learning in the classroom,” Westergard says. “I worked on the afternoon shift on the grounds. I’d leave the classroom and after lunch, I would go work four or five hours on the grounds every day.”

During his summer breaks, he worked for another landscape company, where he learned how to build custom decks. He says his experience out in the field helped prepare him for the industry.

“If you just have the degree, it’s good and you’ve learned a lot, but it’s really a foundation to a career and without the real-world experience, it’s hard,” Westergard says. “It’s maybe a slower curve once you graduate from college and jump into working with an actual company.”

A Passion for Teaching

During Westergard’s senior year of college, he switched gears and became a teaching assistant. In this role, he helped enter grades and catch people up on exams they missed but he also was able to teach classes from time to time.

His desire to teach horticulture to college students blossomed, but he knew the best professors had real-world experience, so his goal was to go into teaching after a long career working in the landscape industry.

Instead, an opportunity opened up to teach at BYU-Idaho much sooner than expected. Westergard knew this position would not open up again for another 20 or 30 years so he applied and got the job.

Westergard teaching his first class at BYU-Idaho

Over his years of teaching, Westergard says his ability to understand the college student demographic has improved. As he gained more patience and understanding, he was able to connect, nurture, coach and advise his students more effectively.

“College professors, they play a really sacred role in people’s lives,” Westergard says. “That’s very delicate real estate to walk around in someone else’s mind and heart and so just learning how to navigate that better and the power and almost overwhelming responsibility and stewardship that that is.”

Westergard says the generation coming out of college right now has its own challenges that weren’t around when he graduated. He says there are lots of pressures, and social media can impact the mental health of the younger generation. He says that, in general, this generation is also looking for meaningful work.

“I think they’re more attuned to working for companies where maybe there’s a bigger why or companies that are trying to be a good steward with their community and with their environment, things like that matter more than just the paycheck,” Westergard says.

Industry Experiences

Throughout his career, Westergard says it was life situations and relationships that influenced his job changes. For instance, while going through grad school, Westergard owned his own landscape company to help pay for his tuition and for the new babies he and his wife had during that time.

Westergard’s first job out of college was a production manager for The Brickman Group.

He says when he was presented with the opportunity to gain some more stability, he moved into a branch manager role with LandCare, which he had until the faculty job opened up at BYU-Idaho.

After teaching for eight years, Westergard returned to LandCare. He had been developing some training materials with Jennifer Burnett, chief people officer of LandCare, and she presented him with the position to come on full-time to work on the employee learning and development team.

In his current role, Westergard creates learning content that LandCare employees can access through their learning management system. Some of the content he creates, Westergard is able to teach, and other content is provided for others to deliver in trainings.

“Teaching people, seeing light bulbs come on, helping people get better at what they do is really fun,” Westergard says. “That is really rewarding. I love teaching. I discovered that when I was a teaching assistant as a college student, and it hasn’t gone away; if anything, it’s only grown.”

Westergard recruiting at NCLC in 2024.

In the next five years, he’d like to see himself leading the company’s learning and development team, overseeing training.

He says if he had to go back and do it over again, he would follow his exact same path, even thought it’s not what he imagined it would look like back when he was in college.

“I think you need a plan and I think you need to act and move forward, even not knowing exactly what may happen but just start moving towards a destination and if Siri says to turn right where you thought you were going to go straight, then don’t be afraid to take some of those detours because they might lead to more exciting opportunities,” Westergard says.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.