THERE are times when I see the quality of landscape construction and maintenance projects at such a poor standard that I wonder if there is any hope for the industry.
But today I am hopeful that the future of the industry will be cared for by the enthusiastic hands of next generation of horticulturists and landscapers.
My hope has been renewed by my recent visit to the British Columbia Landscape and Nursery Trades Association's Landscape Industry Certification testing day held at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Langley. Landscape certification is administered in the province by the BCLNA in co-operation with the Canadian Landscape and Nursery Association and PLANET, the Professional Landcare Network based in the United States. Planet is an international association serving lawn care professionals, exterior maintenance contractors, landscape installation/design/ build professionals and interiorscapers working in 26 American states and in Canada. For more information visit www. landscapeindustrycertified.org.
About 12 years ago I was a certification judge and I returned this year to see how the program has improved. I spoke with Cable Baker, the BCLNA's certification chairman who is responsible for running and improving the program here in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. There were 17 participants being tested on a variety of practices including laying sod, turf maintenance, irrigation repair, tree planting, pruning, equipment operation, safety, plant identification, bobcat operation and other skills.
Baker explained to me that each station is valued out of 100 points with 70 points required to pass each station and a specific time limit for completion.
The testing stations are supervised by a judge who is a landscape professional and specifically trained on how to deliver the test using standardized and unbiased speeches to guide participants and specific evaluation criteria.
Several noticeable improvements to this test versus the test I judged years ago include no company logos on anyone. There was no wandering about by anyone. No looky-loos or visitors. And the site was well organized and stations were labelled clearly. Judges wear green judging vests and judges are assisted and supervised by judges training assistants who help to keep the process fair and at the prescribed standard. Participants must have at least 2,000 hours of direct landscape experience in order to qualify for testing.
Test participants are not permitted to wander the grounds and watch the testing, they must return to a specified and enclosed area after each test. Even I had to be chaperoned around the test grounds to prevent interference with the testing. And participants are required to obtain ongoing education credits to maintain certification. Baker told me, "These are not easy tests for anyone to pass, they are time dependant and the evaluation criteria has been
developed and implemented across Canada and the U.S. based on industry's best practices. This is a full and demanding day of skill testing proceeding from station to station with prescribed outcomes."
The testing grounds at Kwantlen are well designed and include all tools and equipment needed for each test. The equipment is high quality and supplied by Kwantlen and Echo Canada. And to my great pleasure and I met my old friend Rob Welsh, former instructor at the Capilano College horticulture program, who works at Kwantlen and volunteers on certification days.
I spoke with Vannessa Paradis, a 22year-old gardener from Montreal who now lives in Burnaby. Paradis had just finished the pruning station and her face was flushed red and sweaty.
"It's a bit stressful but worthwhile," she told me as we sat to talk. I asked why she was attending certification. "This type of testing allows me to learn gradually as I have time and as I gain the experience necessary and it teaches me the industry standard."
It was interesting for me to watch the various participants stress, sweat and work their way through the demanding requirements of each test station. And nerves play a part in this process, about which Baker said, "Being nervous can prevent some people from passing so we try to keep things as organized and calm and possible to put participants at ease." I was impressed by the level of camaraderie, enthusiasm and focus that the test participants and the volunteer judges exhibited.
I asked Baker why he volunteers for this and what his wife says about him giving up so much time to landscape certification?
"Certification keeps me up to date and I believe in the purpose of improving industry standards. And my wife understands that I love the work and it's part of who I am."
The big question for me was what value can homeowners see in landscape industry certification?
Baker said, "Certification requires participants to invest time and money in the process, so for homeowners, certification demonstrates professional intent and skills competency in their chosen career."