Training for CNGA members – Certification and Beyond

By Debi Borden-Miller, CNGA Certification & Administrative Coordinator

The Colorado Nursery and Greenhouse Association (CNGA) has always held education, training, competence, and professionalism in high regard. The mission statement is: “CNGA creates opportunities for horticulture and associated industry professionals to collaboratively grow their business through fellowship, education, advocacy & certification.”

The CNGA Board Policies also state: “CNGA will undertake high-quality programs so members will gain specific, industry-related technical expertise and business knowledge, and increase professional standing and credibility.”

certification process
The CCNP Exam

One of the main programs under the education umbrella is certification. Currently, CNGA offers three certification programs: Colorado Certified Nursery Professional (CCNP), Certified Greenhouse Grower (CGG), and New Mexico Certified Nursery Professional (NMCNP). Many years and hours of volunteer work have gone into these programs. CNGA is lucky and very thankful to have several dedicated instructors who teach these classes every year. Certification is more than just taking classes and passing a test (with a 75% score or better). To be certified, a person must also be working in the industry and have 2,000 hours of experience at a Colorado licensed nursery, garden center, greenhouse, contractor, or allied industry company. Certified persons need to re-certify every three years and verify continuing education and professional growth.

The CCNP program was developed in 1986, as a way for professionals to learn about woody plants and perennials, show a higher level of competence, and promote a professional image. The program acknowledges professionals who demonstrate a high standard of knowledge. The name badge, given after certification is completed, identifies a person as a certified, highly competent professional when it is worn. CCNPs say it’s a badge of honor! The program has developed from just a manual and an exam to a full-blown educational opportunity that also includes four full days of classes. When someone completes the program, they know approximately 390 trees, shrubs and perennials, as well as basic landscape design principals and general industry information. To date, 813 people have been certified or are in the process.

“The CCNP is a great program, offering a ton of relevant plant information. Certification helps staff be more comfortable talking about and selling plant material, which helps our customers get the right plants for the right places. The courses help employees to build confidence and get excited about plants. We have four staff members who are CCNPs. We continue to encourage our staff to attend the courses. Typically in the last three years, one of our employees has been certified each year.”

Jeff Echter, Retail Store Manager, Echter’s Nursery & Garden Center
teaching at tree farm
A CCNP Class

The newer CGG program started in 2003, and provides a comprehensive knowledge of greenhouse growing operations. Professionals gain expertise about greenhouse structures, heating and cooling, insects and diseases, basic botany and plant physiology, water, media, nutrition, diagnosis, and more. Offered as a two-day course and exam at ProGreen every year, this certification opportunity offers a good solid base of indoor growing knowledge for greenhouse growers. Since its inception, 172 people have been certified or are in the process.

NMCNP was started in 2013, to fill the need for more regional plant knowledge. Currently, 13 professionals are certified or in the process.

Going forward with our certification programs, CNGA is working on video versions of the educational classes that will be available on our website, so more members can have the opportunity to participate, learn and get certified – no matter where they live and work. The plan is to have some videos ready by the end of the year.

We also plan to offer all the training classes, manuals and exams in Spanish. The CGG manual is already available in a Spanish version. Due to several requests, the CNGA Board just approved a new status of “Emeritus” for those who maintain certification for more than nine years and have retired but wish to keep the honor and pride of certification in the industry.

Many member companies use the certification programs as training for newer employees, and proudly list their certified employees or the number of certified people they employ on websites and other company communications. Some companies use certification as a way for employees to obtain pay increases. A sense of pride and accomplishment is associated with earning the certification, and our members are proud of their employees who complete the programs.

“Certification gets everyone in our company on the same page and working from the same playbook. Everyone is using the same language and approach, so the company line stays more consistent. We have 15 CCNPs, one CGG and one who is ISA certified. Staff are more motivated to stay with the company for a long time when they know they will be eligible to be certified. Certified employees become key employees who newer and seasonal employees look up to.

“Becoming certified is big for employee confidence. The classes really help our employees who come here from other states to learn about plant care in our environment and climate, along with the challenges of it.

“Also, having certified employees definitely helps set our company apart from the crowd, and builds customer trust in the expertise of our staff. We hang all the plaques on the wall, and employees wear their certification badges. The knowledge of our CCNPs and CGG help customers to have more success as gardeners, so they are more likely to come back and shop.”

Jesse Eastman, Owner and General Manager, Fort Collins Nursery

Beyond certification, CNGA offers many other educational opportunities during ProGreen Expo and throughout the year, such as the Fall Workshop that addresses specific grower topics, Certified Pesticide Applicator (CPA) training, and the Plant Walk. The Leadership Retreat in the autumn allows members to discuss high-level business information and features a keynote speaker. Other events and webinars are offered occasionally throughout the year. The safety newsletter, Safety Sense, includes timely information regarding workplace safety and health, and new protocols, including information and education from OSHA. 

CNGA invites you to participate in any or all of these educational opportunities. If you have any questions, suggestions or ideas for topics, seminars or programs you would like to see, please contact us at the CNGA office at 303.759.6672 or email one of the staff members.

The CCNP Exam