Virtual Competitions at NALP

Learn how NALP translated in-person engagements to online success

Insights from the online edition of the 45th annual National Collegiate Landscape CompetitionBy Danica Tormohlen, Co-Host of Hybrid Hour on ClubhouseGuest: Jennifer Myers, Senior Director, Workforce Development for the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP)

Looking back: In 2019, the last live in-person NCLC drew 1,500 attendees, including 850 students and 150 faculty from 65 schools. The event featured a career fair and a landscape competition where students had two hours to complete 30 challenges on site in a two-hour timeframe. In 2020, NALP canceled the in-person event due to COVID-19 and put together a scaled-down version online in three weeks.

Going virtual in 2021: NALP produced the 45th annual National Collegiate Landscape Competition, a virtual event held live from March 15-19. The event drew nearly 1,100 attendees and included a career fair and 21 competitive events that students were able to complete online. Sponsors and students participated in 901 meetings through the Juno platform.

If you build it, will they come? In October 2020, NALP made the decision to go completely virtual with the 2021 student competition and career fair, but the faculty advisory committee told NALP that they weren’t sure if students would come to the virtual event. “Our #1 challenge was getting students to participate,” Myers said. “We had to sell the benefits to the faculty to get them to promote the event to students. In person, there’s typically a limit to the number of students who can travel to the event. Online, schools could have as many students as they wanted. One California school had 58 students represented at the event.”

Offline to online competition. The new digital format meant new rules. “We didn’t want any barriers for students to participate in the competition,” Myers said. Typically, the competition runs from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and students have one or two hours to complete the 30 challenges that are offered in person. Online, the competition was open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m., and students could use any one- or two-hour window to complete 21 challenges online. Online challenges ranged from 3D exterior landscape design and hardscape installation, to plant problem diagnosis and annual and perennial plant identification. Challenge briefings were pre-recorded with the option for students to ask questions via the platform chat (with answers available to all).

Pricing and participation. “In person, sponsors who participate in the career fair pay $700 per booth, which includes registrations for two industry reps,” Myers said. “We charged $375 for the virtual experience that included a dedicated booth or company landing page and registration for up to six company representatives.” Each industry rep could select dates and times they were available for interviews during NCLC week, and the career fair was open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. EST daily. “Exhibitors did not need to staff the booths online for the entire day each day,” Myers said. “That was something we learned from last year’s virtual event — setting appointments works better.” Employers and students had advance access to the platform to set and schedule interviews. Top sponsors included companies such as Stihl, John Deere, Caterpillar and Bobcat.