Lifelong learner

From Spanish teacher to vice president of HR, Maureen Scheitz is a continuous learner who strives to become an expert on the topics she’s studying to help her company grow.

Photos courtesy of Acres Group

“We’ve got a major problem,” Maureen Scheitz told Acres Group owner Jim Schwantz on the morning she learned the company might not get all of its H-2B workers this summer.

Scheitz found out that the company would get a few dozen foremen through the H-2B program, but not the workers it anticipated. Sherman Fields, vice president of marketing at Acres Group, says making up the loss of the H-2B workers would require a lot of additional recruiting locally and would potentially impact revenue for 2018. “That was a really bad day,” he says.

After sharing the bad news with people, Scheitz spent that day planning an emergency executive meeting for the following morning. She says she put together a list of everything that needed to be done from both a recruiting standpoint and a business perspective to manage the situation. Then, she communicated with managers on what they could do to resolve the labor issue, so they could prepare for the executive meeting.

The next day, people gathered for Scheitz’ emergency meeting. Fields says he remembers walking into the meeting with an expectation of doom-and-gloom.

“I remember walking into the meeting right when it was starting,” he says. “Everybody in the room was happy. I remember thinking, ‘Why is everyone happy?’ Jim looks up and says, ‘Did you hear?’ I’m like, ‘Hear what?’ He says, ‘We got ‘em!’ We found out right in time that our workers were confirmed. And that’s all Maureen – she did everything exactly right.”

Thirty minutes before the meeting, Scheitz had received an email confirming paperwork for Acres Group was received in the mail and that the company would get its 200-plus H-2B workers. She says that news was an answered prayer. “There’s no way on God’s earth we would have found over 200 laborers,” she says.

Co-workers say Scheitz serves as Acres Group’s expert on all-things H-2B. She even implemented the program at the company 15 years ago. She started small, applying for a handful of H-2B workers. Today, the program has grown to where the company receives a couple hundred workers every year.

“She jumped in and I really believe has become an expert and an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform in the H-2B program,” he says.

“She has performed at an extremely high quotient throughout her career, but perhaps at the highest level in 2017.” – Sherm Fields, vice president of marketing, Acres Group
Career change.

Early in Scheitz’ career, she didn’t intend to join Acres Group, the landscaping industry or HR. She started her career as a high school Spanish teacher in Palatine, Illinois. However, a sabbatical and an illness quickly changed things around for her career.

“I was going to take a year sabbatical to get my master’s degree in Spain, but I got sick,” she says. “The school I worked at had already replaced me for the year, so I needed to find a job.”

She knew some people who worked at Acres Group in Waucanda, Illinois, including Schwantz, so she applied for a foreman position.

“I thought, ‘I’d love to work outdoors. This would be a great one-year thing,’” she says.

When Scheitz went in to interview at Acres Group, Schwantz was in the process of forming a human resources department with a consultant. After the interview, both Schwantz and the consultant thought Scheitz would be the perfect candidate to help take on that challenge.

She did, too, so Schwantz had her make a two-year commitment to the job.

What started as a two-year job turned into a 26-year career. Over the years, Schwantz says she wrote thorough company policies and all job descriptions for the positions at Acres Group.

As the company grew from $5 million in revenue when she was hired to more than $50 million in revenue by 2018, Schwantz says the policies she put in place have been critical. The company ranked 29th on Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 List in 2018.

“We run by these policies and procedures,” he says. “Without her detailedness to these policies, we would never be the size we are today.”

While managing an HR department is a different career than what Scheitz intended, it had a few of the same elements she always enjoyed.

“I definitely enjoyed school,” Scheitz says. “I was a lifelong learner. Honestly, that’s what kept me at Acres – continual learning and continual challenge. There was always something new.”

No stone unturned.

As vice president of HR, recruitment is a primary task Scheitz oversees. Although she has a team of seven people who help her, co-workers say she comes up with the various recruitment efforts.

Scheitz lists off a slew of recruitment ideas she’s tried in recent years:

  • Road signs
  • Fliers in communities
  • Attending Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day events
  • Recruiting at grocery stores and churches
  • Posting jobs on Indeed
  • Sharing job opportunities with local media
  • Sending e-blasts to potential job candidates
  • Attending job fairs
  • Recruiting at local universities or community colleges
  • Presentations at high schools

“There is turnover in this industry and to hire for growth takes a lot of creativity and a lot of different ways to do it,” Fields says. “She’s not afraid to pursue new ideas. She leaves no stone unturned.”

In the past, Scheitz says she’s even asked some of Acres Group’s foremen who play on community soccer teams to hand out fliers to their teammates at games.

Scheitz stays proactive, too, playing a role in the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association’s (ILCA) Future Landscape Industry Professionals (FLIP) committee. Through FLIP, Scheitz attends school counselor’s conferences to educate counselors on job opportunities in landscaping.

Then, H-2B is another big area of Scheitz’ expertise, as she helped initiate the program at Acres Group. Co-workers say she proactively lobbies with ILCA to Illinois state senators and occasionally in Washington, D.C., to help pass H-2B reform. And Scheitz, in turn, tries to get all Acres Group workers involved in this process, too.

She sometimes uses company meetings as a time to have workers reach out to state senators. “I used this as an icebreaker at one meeting, saying, ‘Hey everyone, get out your computers. Let’s email senators together,’” she says.

Scheitz says all these recruiting avenues are absolutely necessary.

“The crazy thing is we’ve tracked where we’re getting our people from and it’s a little bit from every one of these areas,” she says. “There’s no grand-slam success. It’s the employing of multiple tactics, and each one providing small results.”

Scheitz, second from left, helps the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association with lobbying to state senators.
Best year ever.

Throughout her career, Scheitz has always done well at her job, but Fields says 2017 may have been her best year to date.

“She has performed at an extremely high quotient throughout her career, but perhaps at the highest level in 2017,” he says.

Fields mostly attributes that to her success in safety and training. Last year, she formed a training committee to provide more training resources at the company. This doubled the number of hours of training that salaried employees received from 1,417 hours in 2016 to 3,360 hours in 2017.

The improved training has also led to improved safety, which helped to lower insurance premiums. In 2017, the company’s worker’s compensation insurance premiums went down by $100,000.

Jeff Kelly, vice president of operations at Acres Group, says Scheitz promoted safety tailgates, weekly foreman safety talks and monthly safety committee meetings. He says she explained the numbers to crews so they could see the impact safety processes have on insurance costs. “She is really taking that knowledge of what the costs are and drives that into the production side,” Kelly says.

Scheitz says it has been rewarding to see the company’s safety record improve.

“It’s been really quite gratifying when loss control reps come in to Acres Group and say, ‘Wow, you guys have an exemplary safety program leading the industry with everything you have in place,’” she says. “That took a lot of hard work and experimentation over years.”

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