If recruiting employees is one of your greatest challenges, you aren’t alone. Many landscape business owners say recruiting—and retaining—good talent is an ongoing source of stress. As a result, achieving success in this area might call for some out-of-the-box thinking.
Doing just that, Timberline Landscaping in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has created a gap year opportunity. The idea plays off other traditional “gap year” programs in which graduating high school students take a “year off” to decide what they want to do—and what career they actually want to pursue.
The company isn’t solely interested in graduating high school students who are “taking a year off.” Through the program, they’re hoping to recruit new hires from across the country who want to give the landscape industry a shot.
Christopher Loncar, the company’s human resources manager, who spearheaded the idea, says he was involved in a similar program at a nonprofit in Youngstown, Ohio. He thought this could be the answer for the landscape industry that is “hurting for labor.”
“We are gearing the program toward all young people who are exploring their options,” Loncar says. “Traditionally, that has meant post-high school/pre-college students, however some young people we recruit may have no intention of starting college and others might even be taking a year off from a college career they already started. Basically, we’re open to anyone who is interested in considering the landscaping industry as a career option.”
Recruiting Employees Using a Gap Year Program Tip #1: Play Up Your Geographical Appeal
Loncar says playing up geographical appeal is part of the overall recruiting effort through Timberline’s GAP Year Opportunity program. The marketing campaign promoting the program will be focused on offering employees opportunities for “epic mountain adventures in Colorado.”
“We are selling Colorado as much as we are selling Timberline,” Loncar says. “For other landscape companies considering a program like this, the idea is to tap into the geographical appeal of your region and use it in your recruitment efforts. For us, it’s mountain adventures.”
Loncar says recreational opportunities for the program will include backpacking, rafting, hiking and rock climbing, among others. The company will not pay for the excursions, but it will discount them. Timberline will make all of the arrangements for the group to attend—possibly even offering transportation.
“The excursions will not be limited to just GAP year employees but will be open to all of our employees,” Loncar says. “However, in our recruitment efforts, promoting those experiences will be key.”
The strongest marketing push for this program will occur through targeted social media ads. Loncar says they plan to specifically target areas like New York and California where “the cost of living may have more young people considering a move.” Timberline is also specifically looking at the Midwest for recruitment opportunities.
“Of course, we’re also promoting locally but our strategy has to be different around here,” he says. “The appeal of mountain adventures isn’t quite as much of a draw to people who already live here. That’s why the primary target of this program is recruiting from outside of Colorado.”
Recruiting Employees Using a Gap Year Program Tip #2: Offer Life Skills Courses
In addition to weekend excursion opportunities, Loncar says the program will also include “life skills courses.”
“These will be those life skills that people so often say they wish were taught at college. Those include everyday budgeting or even communication skills, such as how to succeed in job interviews,” Loncar says. “We also envision teaching writing skills. Right now, the plan is to do this all in-house. We envision it as an evening event and may order food and offer prizes for attendees.”
The biggest cost of offering the gap year program is marketing. But the company is also considering offering completion bonuses for those who finish the year or possibly educational awards for those who decide to go on to pursue a horticulture degree and stay in the field. So, there could be more expenses down the road.
Of course, overall, the hope is that participants will either plan to stay with Timberline or return after completing school.
“Our hope is that program participants will get a taste of the landscape industry and decide to make a career out of it—ideally with us,” Loncar says. “We want participants to see the great opportunities that exist for advancement. We hope to offer many participants the chance to stay on board or to pursue an education and return to a career here.”