It may be impossible to quantify how becoming “certified” in the landscape industry will affect your bottom line, but what is certain is that more commercial and government accounts demand certifications by established service providers. Certification is a positive force in elevating service levels within the various segments of the green industry.

While industry professionals understand the value of continuing education that leads to credentials that advertise their expertise, work remains to be done to “educate” property owners and property managers to the value of hiring individuals who have gone the extra mile.

“Without a doubt, certification elevates our industry on the whole,” says Shayne Newman, founder and president, YardApes, New Milford, Connecticut. “It is the means by which we become landscape professionals.”

Newman says, “We’ve had several employees achieve certification through a rigorous program administered by NALP. To be certified means unequivocally that we are safer, more knowledgeable, more efficient and more productive.”

One of the main goals of the green industry’s national trade associations is to promote professionalism and build the public’s confidence in the industry. Offering industry certification are:

Sheri and Joe Russell own and operate Russell Tree Experts, Westerville, Ohio, and boast of having several certified ISA tree service associates. Russell attained her certification in 2008.

“I’m proud to be one of the few female certified arborists. I was the only female in a room of over 100 people when I took my exam at Dawes Arboretum, Newark, Ohio, and am excited to see more and more women seeking certification,” she relates.

“I sought after the title because it serves as proof of my understanding and dedication to professional tree care,” Russell says. “I’m happy to see that the public is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the title when hiring tree care professionals. I encourage potential customers to compare our services to other businesses with certified arborists for an ‘apples to apples’ comparison, for it has been my experience that companies that seek certified individuals operate with high standards and truly value healthy trees.”

It is equally important that service providers attain and retain certifications in their particular fields. Many industry standards have evolved into baseline criteria that state and local agencies utilize to establish requirements when considering new regulations and laws. Sometimes, these voluntary rules and regulations become standards for state licensing.

“Certification as a recognition of a level of professionalism is gaining momentum within all sectors of the green industry,” adds Joel Hafner, CLT, CLP, Poolesville, Maryland.

“Our customers are becoming more aware of its significance and, one day soon, will hopefully demand certification as a requisite for being on their property.”

Not that earning a certification is easy. Not by a long shot.

“I think the test has five sections and you must pass all sections in order to pass the test,” says Michael Joseph, co-owner, Joseph Tree Service, Columbus, Ohio, of the ISA certification test. “I recommend to those thinking about taking the exam that they take the test seriously and buy the study materials and really study hard.”

A serious effort

Wendy Connair, president, Garden Girls, Inc., Mantua, Ohio, says passing the NALP exam is no picnic either. “It’s not just an easy test that you walk in and walk out of; there is a level of skills and knowledge that is required to master in order to acquire a certification.”

Connair says her certifications assure the public that she knows her business inside and out and that her company is not just a fly-by-night operation.

“I feel that NALP understood years ago the importance in setting a higher quality standard in the green industry needed to be established to set the professionals above those who are out to make a quick buck,” she says. “Just like a plumber is looked upon as a professional occupation and learned skill so should the landscape occupation.”

Joseph concurs with Hafner, Newman, Russell and Connair about the need for certification in the green industry.

“Arborist certification is very important for our industry. It demonstrates a level of education about arboriculture and a level of commitment to the industry,” says Joseph. “There is a continuing education requirement which helps arborist to stay up to date with the advancements and science of arboriculture,” says Joseph.

Anne Olmstead, ISA’s marketing communications manager, says that obtaining an ISA certification demonstrates that members have the proper knowledge and skills, as well as a high level of dedication to our profession and community.

“ISA credentials build expert knowledge and reflect the professional skills sought by leaders from the public and private sectors, including training, academia and government organizations,” insists Olmstead.

Olmstead advanced several advantages to becoming certified by ISA that also applies to each discipline in the green industry: increasing income, efficiencies in hiring and training, allowing the public to make informed selection for the services, building upon self-image and certifications might become a deciding factor when bids are similar in cost and application, especially to those businesses seeking LEED certifications.

Karen Barnett, NALP’s director of programs and services, says that certification allows the public to review credentials and make a decision based on each service provider’s level of training and education. NALP offers multiple certifications. Professional growth strategies, and helping the public identify competent service providers are among the association’s goals.

“Individuals who become certified increase their value to employers, provide a higher standard of service to clients and help raise the professionalism of the entire industry,” insists Barnett.

NALP, in addition to helping members earn certifications, is working to get the word out to the public.

“We are also focused on educating the public about certification. The first thing to know about landscape industry certified is that it is an individual certification, not a company accreditation,” says Barnett. “Professionals who are interested in becoming certified should first choose one of the seven designations and then register. All programs are self-study and suggested study materials are available for purchase.”

Continuing education

Recertification is important and stressed in the green industry because of ever-changing laws and almost daily technical advancement in the various fields. Each discipline has a stringent recertification program designed to ensure their members are up-to-date with changes in their industry.

“Landscape industry certified individuals stay on top of their profession and credentials by recertifying every two years,” says Barnett.

The required continuing education and optional service needed to maintain the active status of NALP certification is measured in continuing education units. Members are required to report 24 CEUs earned during the two-year cycle to maintain the active status of certification. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies standards state that certification programs must include recertification provisions.

Earning the right to be a PGMS Certified Grounds Manager involves acquiring both technical knowledge and in-the-field skills.
Photo courtesy the PGMS.

Sherrie Schulte, CLIA, certification and operations director, Irrigation Association, also insists that certifications elevate green industry professionals over those that have not achieved the same proven level of competency. “Becoming certified gives individuals instant credibility with both customers and employers, provides additional job opportunities, demonstrates individuals’ commitment to water management and distinguishes them from their competition,” she explains. “Certification also raises the bar within the industry, which helps the credibility for the industry in general.”

Similar to NALP, the IA also offers multiple certification programs. Each certification program has different requirements in order to qualify to sit for an exam, says Schulte.

Kelly Mesaris, associate executive director, Professional Grounds Management Society, says that the certifications that her association offers to grounds professionals offers tangible benefits. “With certification, your presentations, requests for funds and equipment and recommendations carry more weight,” she points out. PGMS members are primarily institutional grounds managers and their association offers three certification programs.

“The Certified Grounds Manager program, developed and offered by PGMS, is the premiere program of its type in the green industry,” Mesaris adds. “To earn the certificate of completion for the School of Grounds Management, the student must complete a total of 24 credits within four years. Eighteen of these credits must be completed at the SGM in the core competencies. “

Ellen Kobach, certification and communications manager, Snow Ice Management Association, says that SIMA’s certified snow professional certification is the recognized standard for professionalism and excellence in snow and ice management services.

“Getting the CSP designation can build a broader base of knowledge to deliver excellence to customers. CSPs value consistent service and communication, are focused on partnership, safety and risk management and are aligned with industry best practices,” says Kobach.

To become CSP certified the student is tested in six areas of competence: business, human resources, marketing, subcontractors, snow and ice science, and snow and ice operations and techniques.

Kobach explains that at SIMA they renew yearly. Once an individual passes the exam, they must renew yearly and obtain continuing education credits through SIMA’s annual Snow and Ice Symposium, industry trade show attendance, writing content for SIMA, webinars and more, she adds.

At ISA there are two options in maintaining certification: members can obtain the required number of CEUs in their three-year certification period (ie. ISA certified arborist 30 CEUs) and pay a recertification fee, or choose to retake the exam and successfully pass in order to maintain credentials.

Schulte explains the IA’s recertification process. “All certified professionals are required to submit 20 CEUs per two-year cycle to remain in good standing. Newly certified professionals will be assigned a CEU cycle. This cycle will begin the year following when the designation was earned.”

AT PGMS, after becoming a CGM, members must keep up accreditation by earning 25 CEUs every three years.

Along with industry certifications, many colleges and universities offer curriculums of specialization into every facet of green industry services. Two-year technical certifications, in a variety of disciplines, as well as four-year bachelor programs in turf science, horticulture and related sciences, are becoming the norm for many contractors; advanced degrees, or comparable experience, is often required for executive positions with larger turf management companies and is a necessity in many start-up companies and often become requisites for advanced certifications in many trade associations.

The International Society of Arborists offers several certifications.
Photo courtesy Russell Tree Experts.

Many states also have landscape associations and some of those also offer strong educational opportunities along with certification programs.

Trade association certifications offer valuable learning opportunities, are key in continuing education and provide the public the assurances that each science is being performed by knowledgeable and reliable professionals.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.