Michael Becker, president of Estate Gardeners, Inc. in Elkhorn, NE, is the chair of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) Accredited Company Task Force. The Task Force is currently in the process of developing NALP’s accredited landscape company program. The program is designed to help change the perception people have about the landscaping industry as a whole.
Q: What is your role as chairman of the program?
A: There’s a Task Force of about 8 to 10 people from the United States and Canada. What I’ve done so far is look over the previous two years’ worth of work they’ve done in developing the criteria for what we would measure for a company to become accredited.
We’re in the process of honing that criteria down to come out with the best things we can measure in a company. I work closely with Karen Barnett, the staff member at NALP who is overseeing all of this. Together we edit the documents and bounce them back to the larger group to ask for their feedback. So we’re just distilling this down to make it a clean application process.
Q: Why did you decide to get involved?
A: I got involved years ago at the certification level because—and I know all industries deal with it to some degree—certainly in our industry there are people out there conducting business who are not properly trained and do not have the proper skills. There aren't very high barriers to enter into our industry. So when you’re put in that type of market and have to compete against people like that, you have to differentiate yourself. After I took the "landscape industry certified manager" exam for exterior landscape, I was invited to sit in on a discussion group within the organization to talk about the certification. I just got more and more involved from there.
I volunteered to work on the International Certification Council. I was a member of that for multiple years and eventually became the chair. We oversaw the inventory of different certifications that are offered by NALP and the Canadian Nursery and Landscape Association. Being involved at that level, I was also invited to participate in some strategic planning meetings with NALP. Out of those meeting came a desire in the strategic planning process to have an accredited company initiative. I got involved because I thought certification was a great way to differentiate myself from other people in the market. It’s also just a great way to benchmark your level of expertise in what you do.
Q: What is the idea behind the new accreditation program?
A: NALP already has certifications for individuals. Individuals can take a test and demonstrate a skillset that this industry has determined is desirable and necessary. The accreditation is more for companies. Since our industry is so varied and there are so many different segments of our industry, there probably aren't two companies that look exactly the same. So with accreditation we’re trying to give the customer a mark of approval they can see on a landscape company that says, "This company has the business acumen to keep its promises, and to perform the task it says it’s going to."
Certification will also be a part of it and will attest to the fact that the technicians in the field are well-trained and have the skills to do the work. The accreditation, then, shows that you have good company communications, train your employees and keep them apprised of your company policies and procedures, properly track customer satisfaction, have proper insurance, have a qualified bookkeeping program in place, and have a strong safety record.
Q: How will the accreditation process work?
A: It’s going to be in the form of an application you fill out, and then there will be some degree of documentation for certain things. We make sure contractors have a company handbook that explains the procedures and everything in the company. Then there are safety issues that have to be documented, along with documentation that they have certified staff. So it will be a written application and then some sort of audit process; probably an off-site audit where they would have to submit all of the documents that we require.
Q: When will the program launch?
A: We have a pretty hard goal right now that the program will be launched at the Landscapes conference in Louisville in October 2016. We’re really close, in the fine-tuning stage right now. The next thing will be to run a pilot with a few select companies to go through the process. Then we can work out the bugs before we open it up to the public.