Finding employees is one of the hardest parts about being a landscape business owner.
The good news: A 2017 IBIS World study reported steady growth in the housing and property markets over the past five years, resulting in greater demand for landscape industry workers. Similar trends are expected into 2023 as residential and commercial construction activity begins to stabilize.
The bad news: Even though the demand for landscape workers is growing, every year it gets harder and harder for business owners like yourself to find quality employees.
“I’ve been in this industry for 20 years and finding good people has never not been an issue,” explains Jenn Myers, who focuses on workforce development education and research for the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) and has more than 20 years of experience dealing with recruitment and retention in the landscape industry. “Even through the recession, landscape companies couldn’t find enough people.”
In fact, 77 percent of landscape professionals answering a 2017 Lawn & Landscape survey believe a lack of quality employees hinders their growth. Another 59 percent of landscape business owners said they need workers pronto.
It’s no doubt finding employees is one of the hardest parts about being a landscape business owner. But there are a few solid ways to improve your chances of locating valuable workers. Here are four ideas to set you on your way.
1. Use a variety of recruitment tools. Don’t take any recruitment tool at your disposal for granted. Recruiting is not just something a landscape business should do prior to the busy season; it’s a yearlong process, Myers explains. Job board postings should include details like what makes your company a great place to work (growth opportunities, community involvement, flexible hours, performance bonuses, fun or laid-back culture, etc.) and what traits are required, such as a high attention to detail.
In a 2016 survey by Mel Kleiman, founder of Humetrics, a workforce development consulting company, 83 percent of respondents said referrals from employees, vendors, customers and/or social networks was their best source of job applicants. Implementing a referral reward program could help you take advantage of this source. While employee referral reward programs are growing in popularity in the landscape industry, consider reaching out to a wider network than just your current employees, Myers says, mentioning this as one of the eight more non-traditional ways to find landscape employees she highlighted in a NALP blog post.
2. Create landscape industry awareness locally at a high school level. Let’s face it: As a result of the lack of knowledge available to people about the landscape industry and the career potential within, its image is tainted. This is particularly true with younger generations.
“Students and parents think it’s a dirty job and that you don’t make any money in landscaping; we just have this stigma, if you will,” explains Callan Dudley, general manager, Southern Landscape Group, Evington, Virginia, and an NALP member.
But the landscape industry has an opportunity here. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials (ages 20 to 35 as of 2016 data) will surpass baby boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation in 2019, and generation Xers (ages 36 to 51 in 2016) will surpass them by 2028.
While the market for workers is competitive, this proves availability isn’t the single source of the landscape industry’s labor crisis. People are available; they just aren’t applying for landscape jobs.
“Manufacturing and construction jobs attract more people because people see them working on a big, amazing building or creating a product in a warehouse, but landscaping doesn’t carry that same image in people’s minds,” Myers explains.
Recruiting is not just something a landscape business should do prior to the busy season; it’s a yearlong process
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t list landscaping specifically as an occupational group in its data, most related fields are projecting increases. The agency reports that by 2022 building and grounds maintenance occupations will increase 12.5 percent; construction occupations will increase 21.4 percent; installation, maintenance and repair occupations will increase 9.5 percent; and farming and forestry occupations will decrease 3.4 percent.
Landscape business owners can solve this problem by continuing to educate younger generations on the many jobs and opportunities the industry provides. Southern Landscape Group is trying to solve this problem by partnering with a local technical center to provide a paid short course for high school students. In 2018, the four-day short course ran from 8:30 to 1:30 each day. Students provided their own lunches and transportation and they received hands-on experience working with difference crews and crew leaders. For instance, students installed large brick planters and two paver patios, as well as turf and mulch, on the technical center grounds. They also got to use a variety of heavy machinery. Each morning started in a classroom where crews shared tips on the upcoming tasks for the day as well as safety standards. At the end of the course, parents were invited to attend an awards ceremony that flaunted and honored students’ work.
In 2018, Southern Landscape Group had room for 12 students; 11 signed up and 10 participated. Of that group, six students became company interns and one became a full-time employee that is still working there today. In 2019, the company switched the venue of the short course to its own office; eight signed up and four actually completed the course. Two became company interns last summer, and another one of the students from 2018 became a Southern Landscape Group employee after high school graduation. “These students who took the short course became the most engaged interns we’ve ever had, and now we have two new employees as a result,” Dudley explains, describing the course as successful so far for helping spread the word about local landscape industry opportunities to high school students and providing the company with two solid hires.
3. Provide value by partnering with local educational institutions. According to a recent College and Career Readiness survey of 165,000 high school students, fewer than half feel they’re ready for college and careers. Only 46 percent feel their schools have helped them figure out which careers match their interests and abilities. “Teachers are so focused on the testing they must conduct that they have no time to focus on life skills,” Dudley says. To help teachers fill this void, Dudley partnered with local educators to have herself or another Southern Landscape Group representative present in the classroom once a month to teach 100 to 120 children various things from resume building to interviewing skills to workplace personality styles to teamwork and the importance of communication.
77 percent of landscape professionals believe lack of quality employees hinders their growth. Another 59 percent of landscape business owners said they need workers pronto
“At first, I wasn’t sure it was making an impact,” Dudley says. “Then I was out shopping and ran into a girl from one of my classes and her mother came up to me with tears in her eyes saying how much of an impact I’m making on her daughter and her friends and how much they talk about the tips I’m sharing. Then I notice the questions they ask in class. One girl asked about what she should wear to pick up an application or to interview and another asked why companies do drug testing. They were genuinely interested in these answers and really didn’t understand some of the basics that we’ve all grown up learning about when it comes to job interviews.”
4. Focus on unique things that make your company a special place to work. Sure, you have a great culture, but what does that really mean? When you’re describing your workplace to potential job candidates, you have to be more specific in telling them what makes you different from — and more attractive than — the rest.
When you’re based in Florida, for instance, you become a popular destination for people living in winter climates. Chris Eastman, owner of Fieldstone Landscape Services, Clearwater, Florida, and an NALP member, has done Facebook marketing targeted toward cold-weather climates using people’s desire to move to Florida as a hook to attract job applicants. “We target our messaging to those who are passionate about landscaping and might want to relocate away from a climate where it snows a lot,” he explains. Of the nine people he recruited through this method in 2019, seven have stayed with the company so far. Eastman ran the ads for three weeks and it cost the company about $1,000 per week. “I would easily pay that again to recruit seven to 10 solid guys,” Eastman explains.
Sure, the search for landscape employees can feel like a never-ending job. Use these tactics to think about and plan for the future to build a pipeline of strong job candidates, making the duty not only easier on you, but also more successful, in the long-run. Find the best industry-specific education and programs to help grow your business, improve operations, increase profits and stand out from the competition. Find out what membership in NALP can do for your business by contacting one of our membership specialists today at 800-395-2522.