Turf Magazine - February, 2012

NATIONAL FEATURES

A Strong Case for Certification

While the cost is great in terms of time and effort, many green industry industry pros say it's worth it
By Cheryl Higley

Take a look at any professional association in the industry and a certification program will likely be a big part of its offering. Achieving certification indicates a dedication to increasing an employee's level of professionalism through learning and continued commitment to their career, their company, their industry and, most importantly, to the customers they serve.


Shayne Newman, president of YardApes, Inc. is a landscape certified technician and manager. He wanted to set an example for his team.
PHOTO BY RON HALL.

The question most people in the green industry ask themselves about certification is, "Is it worth it?"

Certification is costly not only in dollars, but also in time devoted to first becoming certified and then to maintaining that certification through continuing education. But those who have become certified say the payback is worth it.

Individual benefits

From an individual standpoint, there are several benefits to becoming certified. Sherrie Schulte, CLIA, and certification director of the Irrigation Association, says certification prepares employees for greater on-the-job responsibility; opens new doors to opportunity; shows peers, supervisors and the public their abilities and level of knowledge; and reflects their professional achievement.

Do I have what it takes? Don Blackwell of Advanced Irrigation, Inc. in Seattle received his first certification in the early 1990s and is now certified as an irrigation designer, irrigation contractor, landscape irrigation auditor and SolidWorks professional. His initial intent for achieving certification was to prove to himself he had the knowledge to call himself a "professional" in his field.

"I've been in this industry for many years, but time in the industry doesn't make you a professional. I wanted to prove that I had what it takes to really call myself and market myself as a certified professional," says Blackwell.

Key differentiator. Many service industries tend to have low barriers for entry. Showing potential clients that you have taken the time to achieve certification helps set you apart from the competition.


Click the image for a larger version.

"The body of work and knowledge that is needed to be a certified grounds manager (CGM) is impressive," says John Van Etten, CGM, landscape manager for Hoffman Landscape & Design in Albany, N.Y. "It shows a huge commitment to professionalism and a desire to excel in our field."

Mike Mason, vice president and COO of The Lawn Pro in Louisville, Ky., is a member of the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA). He agrees that his certified snow professional (CSP) designation helps to differentiate him from the competition - especially in a low-snow area.

"Most of our competitors hate snow. We love it, prepare for it, and do it very well," says Mason, who is one of only two CSPs in Kentucky. "The certification is even more important in our market because it helps to show the client how ready we are and how seriously we take it."

Greater value as an employee. For Shayne Newman, founder and president of YardApes, Inc. in New Milford, Conn., he wanted to set an example for his employees. He is landscape industry certified as a technician and as a manager through PLANET. His company also has five employees who are landscape industry certified and 10 others are in various stages of the certification process.

"About 10 years ago, I looked at how to grow my company and realized I needed career-minded employees to facilitate that growth," Newman says. "By achieving industry certification, it would allow me to define the standard for what I wanted from my employees."

Company benefits

While a certification title is certainly a feather in the cap for an employee, companies who have certified employees on staff reap the benefits as well.

Commitment to clients. Mason says the designation shows a commitment and dedication that translates into a better client experience. "When I approach prospective clients, I always make sure to let them know I am certified - but I talk about what that education and information I have gained means for them. It shows the level of seriousness that we take in our approach to snow management."

Bidding requirements. Many associations say more and more potential customers are demanding certification as a prerequisite to bidding, which is a good sign that clients are seeing beyond the commoditization of the service and looking instead at the companies who can best provide a higher level of service.

"We're beginning to see more specifiers requiring landscape industry certified staff. This is a trend we hope to see grow," says Michael Becker, landscape industry certified manager and chair of PLANET's International Certification Council.


PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LAWN PRO.

Shulte says companies with certified staff may also open themselves up to a new realm of business. In the irrigation industry, for example, certified professionals have the opportunity to become EPA WaterSense partners.

Attracting better clients. With the down economy, Blackwell says it seems fly-by-night companies are popping up in the industry. Certification makes his company more desirable, he says, to the types of clients he wants to attract.

"I'm not interested in having a thousand low-end, price-sensitive clients who are going to nitpick at you for every dollar," he says. "The client I want is the educated, smarter, more discriminating one who is willing to pay for the value we provide."

Industry benefits

The benefits to certification often go hand in hand between the individual achieving certification, the industry in which they work, and the associations that serve the industry.

Ellen Kobach, certification and communications coordinator for SIMA, says it is not uncommon for those seeking certification to also become more involved in the association.

"The CSP designation sets industry standards, so it benefits SIMA to have CSPs who have learned and understand these standards to raise the bar in the industry," she says. "Taking part in the CSP program takes membership to the next level and frequently is a stepping stone to becoming more involved in SIMA."

Mason, who became a CSP six years ago and is currently vice president of the SIMA Board of Directors, agrees, noting his certification and increased involvement in the association came around the same time. That coincided with his company growing its snow business to new heights.

Newman believes it should be the goal of every employer to encourage their employees to be certified, thus raising the level of professionalism across the board.

"One of my real passions is to help elevate the perception of our industry. The surest means to that end is in raising the standards of the profession at large," he says. "I would love to see the certified and credentialed landscape professional be the norm, and not the exception."

Cheryl Higley is a freelance writer and editorial director of Snow Business magazine, the official publication of the Snow & Ice Management Association.