NALP Members Weigh in on Hiring During COVID-19 - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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NALP Members Weigh in on Hiring During COVID-19

With an influx of unemployed workers available due to COVID-19 related company layoffs, if you’re looking to upgrade or grow your team, here’s what NALP members are saying about hiring right now.

“In the past, maybe there was room for some ‘fluff’ but when you’re operating day to day, week to week, and there are questions about whether or not your customers are going to be paying you because they’re going through hard times, every single team member needs to be putting in their fair share of productivity into the company,” says Peter Novak, president of Serpico Landscaping, based in Hayward, California.

Attracting New Hires and Where They’re Coming From

Brian Avery, president of LandPro, Inc. based in Bardstown, Kentucky, has hired five people so far because of the job market going down. Two of these employees had lost their jobs due to COVID-19 while the other three are college students whose normal summer jobs are not available right now. Avery says the majority of his new hires come from employee referrals.

“They’ll say ‘Hey my buddy lost his job,’ or ‘My buddy was laid off and I know he’s looking for work,’” Avery says. “I’m always looking for new good team members. I’m willing to give people a shot. I don’t want anybody to be out of work.”

Kurt Kluznik, president of Yardmaster, Inc. based in Painesville, Ohio, says hiring has been much easier during the pandemic.

“Now that COVID-19 has crippled the economy, we are finding recruiting is no problem,” Kluznik says. “In fact, it is very rewarding to be able to hire people that are desperate for work. We are finding people that never considered the green industry are finding it very satisfying. How can you beat working outside and making properties beautiful?”

Kluznik says their social media listings, signage and referrals are all working better than ever. The challenge now is telling people they don’t have openings for them.  

CoCal Landscape, based in Denver, Colorado, didn’t receive their 160 H-2B workers this year and raised their starting wages to $17.50 in January. Aside from increasing their pay, CoCal also has a billboard on their property that overlooks a main highway that says they’re still hiring.

“Right now, we have an abundance of people applying,” says Mari Medrano, human resources director at CoCal. “The problem now is that it’s pretty much people that are in the restaurant industry or the hotel industry, and they’re not used to working outside, so they work three or four days and then they leave. That’s what we’re facing now, we have an abundance of applicants who don’t stay.”

For Serpico Landscaping, they’ve recently had to work to replace a number of employees who have recently left the state or work in another industry.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in people looking to turn in their application,” Novak says. “Over the last three weeks, we’ve had a constant flow of applicants.”

Novak says they’ve added magnetic ‘now hiring’ signage on all of their fleet vehicles and their careers page on their website has also received a lot of applications. He says they’ve gotten a lot interest from people within the industry as other landscaping companies are laying their people off. Serpico has also had people from the construction industry, HVAC and other service industries applying.

“This may be a time where folks could look at the talent that they have on board and see if there are any opportunities for them to upgrade if a candidate comes along and can give them more productivity,” Novak says. “You want to look to hire on folks that are responsible when it comes to the safety and sanitation practices and maybe look to reduce your risk as a business by eliminating some of those folks that maybe aren’t exactly as good with their safety record.”

Training New Hires in a Pandemic

Kluznik and Novak say they still cover the training basics such as safety and equipment operation, but the main focus with new hires is cleanliness, social distancing and sanitation.

Medrano says their liability estimates and auto insurance estimates are up so there are focusing particularly on getting their new hires acquainted with machinery and how to drive a truck and trailer.

“We’re doing training just on acclimating to being out in the elements,” she says. “You’re not in air conditioning, you have to drink water, you have to get used to working outside. Our training and our focus is a little more on the orientation of the new employees.”

Are They Here to Stay?

Based on the feedback he has received, Novak says they expect everyone they’ve hired to stay on long-term.

“It’s mainly about our training program,” he says. “A lot of them are saying that they’ve never received this kind of training before and they’ve never received this kind of support before. They’re really happy that they came over so I don’t know that these folks are going to want to go back after that.”

Medrano anticipates most of the new hires to leave once restrictions lift, but she says they are still trying to communicate to new employees that this is a long-term job where they can build a career. Avery and Kluznik expect some of their new hires will return to their previous jobs, but others will stay on as they might enjoy working outside.

“I think we will have turnover as people are recruited back to their previous positions and that will be fine,” Kluznik says. “I do think a percentage will stay and our hope is that the influx of people from other industries will be good for them and for our veteran employees.”

Find tools and resources for hiring and recruiting in our Human Resources Toolkit.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.