Seats to fill

Hiring continues to be at the forefront of what is holding landscaping companies back from growth.

© Matt Collins

When we asked contractors how much a lack of quality employees hindered their growth, the following said it does not hinder at all: 25 percent in the Midwest; 23 percent in the Northeast and South and only 11 percent in the West.

Read on to find out how contractors across the country assess their market when it comes to hiring and what they are doing to get ahead.

1. Sean Sandri, Dallas

Sean’s Lawns and Landscaping

I could, generally speaking, say that staffing has been a growing challenge. The qualified labor pool has diminished as the demand for skilled workers has increased. There has been a corresponding spike in demand for higher wages. Compared to last year, the challenge has increased.

We’ve found basing starting wage on experience and then increasing incrementally sooner rather than later based on merit has been effective in retaining labor.

2. Christian Nardi, Southampton, N.J.

Sod Services

We’ve always hired guys right out of high school approximately 18 to 22 years old. I’ve come to notice that there are very few 18- to 22-year-old people that are mature enough to handle a job and take it seriously. They are out there but they’re hard to find. It’s been very frustrating trying to build around people like that. So, in the winter of 2015 into 2016 I hit the reset button. I went out and hired people specifically older than the age of 25. I do have to offer higher starting pay. I’ve come to realize with getting the older, more mature guys you have to start them out between $14 and $16 an hour.

If they have experience, they’re worth more and usually I’m starting them out between $16 and $18 per hour. Most of these people have families and a lot more financial obligations than kids fresh out of high school. I’ve come to realize that these people have more willingness to learn and do things efficiently. It’s almost as if they just flat out care more. I think it has to do with the maturity level. In the long run, it’s money worth spending.

These are guys that need a job. They have wives, kids, families to support and bills to pay. This year has been great. I’ve had cooperation like I’ve never had before. I also have people that will actually take the job seriously and do things correctly. It’s hard managing people who have their minds on everything else other than work. I learned my lesson the past few years and I have run myself ragged trying to babysit. I’m done doing that.

3. Aaron Rodolph, Casper, Wyo.

Rodolph Brothers

Here in Casper, Wyoming, there’s a bit of a recession going on in the oil field, so we’ve actually hired some really great people because they lost their job in the oil field. We have a little bit of a glut of people to hire right now, ever since the oil market crashed in late 2014.

“We have a little bit of a glut of people to hire right now.” Aaron Rodolph, Rodolph Brothers

We’re highly dependent on the price of oil here in Wyoming. Unfortunately, of course during the boom years it’s hard to find anybody. We pay almost twice what anyone else in the industry pays because of the energy industry. Those guys are making $30 an hour so for us to come in and have to pay them $25 dollars an hour, which is really high for our industry, they’re still taking a pay cut but the benefit is they’re working in town and not working out of town all the time so they can be home with their families.

4. Jim Zylstra, Byron Center, Mich.

Tuff Turf Molebusters

I am in the second largest city in Michigan. The labor market is the worst it has ever been in my market. The chamber of commerce reports that for every job opening there is half an applicant. We have been looking for an administrative assistant for over two months. We have very little employee turnover and we pay higher than anybody else in the industry. We pay our office staff more than most companies in any industry. We had a dozen candidates that we called back for a second interview that had already accepted a different job within hours of their initial interview with us.

“I have had to change my philosophy to reflect this new market. It is no longer hire slow, fire fast.” Jim Zylstra, Tuff Turf Molebusters

We are seeing a lot of wage inflation. We had one technician leave us to work for a trash company. Our supervisor has friends in the trash industry and was surprised to find out that our former technician was starting at a higher wage than people that had been with the trash company for nine years. They were also paying for all his CDL training and testing, which can be several thousand dollars.

I have had to change my philosophy to reflect this new market. It is no longer hire slow, fire fast. Many companies have taken the approach of hiring decent candidates at the first interview so as to eliminate the candidate going on other interviews. I am embarrassed to say we tolerate employee behavior that we never would’ve before. The reality is if we have to replace somebody, we will be paying a person with little or no experience more money than our veterans.

5. George D. Ward, Jr., Eastlake, Ohio

Ward’s Lawn Care & Landscape Co.

I would have to say that the hiring/labor force in my particular area (Northeast Ohio) is the same or slightly worse than it has been in the past.

Our continued difficulties are finding people that have valid driver’s licenses or, I should say, would be able to be insured to drive our vehicles. DUIs or crashes are automatic scratches.

If we do find a person that is eligible to drive, very few times do they have experience. If they are able to drive and have experience, there is usually some crazy reason why they are no longer working.

This is our 30th year and I have yet to find a solution to this problem. We pay well and offer competitive benefits. Finding someone that is willing to work and show up to work every day has been quite the challenge.

6. Alaina Bible, St. Petersburg, Fla.

MJ’s Home and Lawn Care Service

We were actually in the market to try and find, basically, a partner so we could start up a second crew. When I initially posted for the listing, we had 80 people within a matter of an hour until I realized I forgot to put on there that a driver’s license was required. That went from 80 people in one hour to five people in three days just to find somebody with a driver’s license that wanted to make a percentage of the business. I mean, there’s always a whole bunch of people that are willing to work. We have problems actually finding good quality people. There’s always a quantity of people who are helpers, it’s finding good, responsible candidates.

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