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A think tank for solving landscape’s labor shortage

March 4, 2020 -  By

For the second year, the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) gathered landscape professionals together for a forum on the industry’s labor shortage.

Company representatives came to Alexandria, Va., to hear presentations on finding and keeping employees in the worst labor market ever, how similar industries such as plumbing and home construction are attracting talent, promoting the industry in schools, using robotic mowers to help solve the labor gap and more.

Jennifer Myers, NALP’s senior director, workforce development, noticed the difference in the event’s energy from last year. “Last year was about selling the idea that we all have to work together to solve this labor problem,” she said. “This year, it’s ‘How do we do more? What have we learned? Now I’m back for more great ideas.’”

Here’s a glimpse of what we learned at the 2020 Workforce Summit:

Workforce expert Eric Chester explains the core values of the ideal employee. (Photo: LM Staff)

Workforce expert Eric Chester explains the core values of the ideal employee. (Photo: LM Staff)

It’s not about skills, it’s about values
For landscape company owners who think that they have a problem with finding skilled labor, workforce development expert Eric Chester debunked that myth pretty quickly.

He asked attendees to write down the top 5 things their ideal employee should have, and a show of hands revealed that every single person wrote down a list of core values, not job-specific skills.

“We don’t have a skills gap, we have a core values gap,” Chester declared. He offered the core values employers most want their employees to possess: positive, reliable, professional, initiative, respectful, integrity and gratitude.

In order to help find and retain great employees with these attributes, Chester broke down his recommendations into three parts:

  • Inculcate work ethic: Communicate clearly so that employees know what their job is, and that they know how to do it.
  • Be a great place to work: Create a work environment where employees are fulfilled. Find stories to support why your employees are not simply engaged, but as Chester puts it, “on fire at work.”
  • Recruit relentlessly: Stop fishing for talent and go hunting instead. Develop a list of the attributes you want in an employee, research where that particular person might be and target your recruitment efforts accordingly.
Workforce Summit attendees listen to diversity initiatives. (Photo: LM Staff)

Workforce Summit attendees listen to diversity initiatives. (Photo: LM Staff)

Diversity = high performance

Sarah Lillie Anderson of American Forests explained that according to a 2015 McKinsey study, ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform the industry median.

To help foster a culture of diversity and inclusion in your workplace, she recommended being transparent about your company’s challenges and offering clear pathways and rewards to growth for all employees. Additionally, she encouraged companies to consider what accommodations they’re making to be inclusive — and these could include offering transportation or ride shares to employees who live in a remote area, child care to employees with kids and ensuring that restrooms are available for all workers.

Rolling with robots
As shown in the February issue of Landscape Management, some companies such as Chicago’s Mariani Landscape are using electric robotic mowers to help bridge the labor gap.

Owner Frank Mariani offered some of the benefits of robotic mowers to landscape crews:

  • less heavy equipment to transport to a job site, because the mower stays on-site
  • companies can use smaller, more economic vehicles because of less equipment
  • reduced yard waste
  • safer than gas, has zero-emissions, and crews don’t have to haul clippings or handle heavy equipment.

The company plans on implementing 100 Husqvarna Automowers on job sites by the end of 2020, saving 5,000 man-hours — without eliminating any jobs.

Youth recruiting isn’t just for youths
At the 2019 Workforce Summit, Dan Eichenlaub of Pittsburgh-based Eichenlaub, Inc., pledged to support the Landscape Apprenticeship program, and his company immediately got to work on enrolling in the program.

A year later, he’s been seeing success with this new initiative. “It’s opened the door to a quality candidate that we haven’t seen in years,” he reported, noting that potential apprentices from other trades such as carpentry may see landscaping as an alternative because of the existence of the program.

He observed that some parents are more receptive to their high school student going into the apprenticeship program rather than straight into a job with a landscaping company.

Tyler Bloom, director of grounds at Sparrows Point Country Club in Baltimore, has been successful with recruiting young people, having hired over 50 students in the last five years.

“(Young people) are looking for mentors, and you can impact the greater community just by reaching out,” Bloom said.

He’s made the employment process easier for a younger generation of applicants by digitizing employment applications and communicating with applicants via text messaging to schedule interviews and follow-ups.

Bloom also suggested involving parents and teachers in the recruiting process, because companies aren’t just advertising to their candidate, but also guidance counselors, teachers and parents.

Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the former senior editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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