Editor’s note: A workforce with no name

May 14, 2019 -  By
Photo: Seth Jones

Seth Jones

I had an awkward moment this weekend — that moment when you need an extra pair of hands for a project, but you look around and no one is there to help, so you have to get creative. For me, that awkward moment came as I was rebuilding part of my cedar fence (Kansas wind, you know) and the only assistants I had went by the names of leverage and gravity.

If anyone was watching they surely laughed at me, but guess what? I got the job done.

That moment summarizes how many in our industry feel every day. There’s work out there and it needs to be done. But that extra pair of hands is becoming harder to find each day.

That’s why in February the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) hosted the first ever Workforce Summit in Washington, D.C. LM sent Senior Editor Abby Hart to cover the event. Read her report on how landscape businesses, NALP and green industry companies are working to try to remedy the industry’s labor shortage.

Let’s be honest, the topic of labor could be the cover story of LM every month. It’s such a consistent concern for the industry that it’s become as common as chitchatting about the weather. In this month’s “Five Questions,” I spoke with Matt Bailey, president of Alpine Landscape Service in Winter Park, Colo. I asked him for a prediction for the industry for the next 10 years. His answer was, “I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I don’t see our employment challenges changing. It’s going to continue to be a challenge to recruit to the green industry.”

Matt’s right — we have heard it before. For example, next month we’re presenting LM150. Sponsored by John Deere and celebrating its 10th anniversary, LM150 is our annual list of the largest landscape companies ranked by annual revenue. Special Projects Editor Marisa Palmieri recently sent me the Excel spreadsheet with all the submissions. One of the questions we asked applicants was, “What are your top business obstacles, and how are you overcoming them?”

Here are three answers, pulled completely at random, using a random number generator:

  • “Recruiting and employee retention — we have looked at our pay scale and benefits and tried to be more competitive. We no longer rely on word of mouth, we are paying for employment ads and we are now looking to H-2B as a seasonal solution, for the short term.”
  • “Finding front-line production employees. Full-time recruiter.”
  • “The largest obstacle in the green industry is LABOR. Finding qualified employees, whom an employer can grow and, most importantly, retain. We continue to utilize the H-2B labor program and have stepped up efforts to recruit from local educational agricultural programs.”

How did I know all three randomly selected answers would be about labor? Because all the answers were about labor! OK, that is an exaggeration. Some entrants left the field blank, and one person said his biggest challenge was “creative environments.” (My favorite answer was the person who said, “No. 1 challenge: labor. No. 2 challenge: labor. No. 3 challenge: labor.”)

I won’t steal any thunder from Abby’s cover story here, but NALP’s Workforce Summit and the Industry Growth Initiative are vital steps in the right direction to try to remedy the industry’s labor woes. We won’t do 12 cover stories on labor issues, because let’s face it — that’s depressing — but we’ll continue to cover this topic in LM, and we’ll continue to attend future events to learn more.

It’s true that many of our readers have had to turn down good jobs because they lack the manpower to take on the project. Until the day our readers are fully staffed, and don’t have to rely on no-name employees like leverage and gravity to get the job done, we’ll continue to cover this important industry topic.

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist of 2014 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 18 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.

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