Labor report: Now hiring


Lack of qualified employees causes labor costs to rise.

When answering, “What keeps you up at night?” Lynn Tootle could have been speaking for green industry owners and managers everywhere.

“Through the recession my concern was, ‘How am I going to get enough work to keep my people working?’” says the general manager of Gro-Masters, the Savannah, Ga.-based turf and ornamental care division of TideWater Landscape Management. “Now, it’s ‘How am I going to get all this work done?”

With a federal unemployment rate of 5.8 percent in October—down from its peak at 10 percent five years earlier—it’s clear there’s a lack of qualified workers for lawn care and landscape companies.

“This has been the most difficult year labor wise, and I’ve done this for 16 years,” says Tootle, whose toughest position to fill is lawn care technician. “You had a glut of skilled laborers from manufacturing and other industries that slowed or ground to a halt. Now that they’re picking back up, that skilled labor is going back to those careers that are beyond what we’re capable of paying.”

Some of his labor rates have increased 15 percent over last year, he says.

Philip Germann, owner of GreenLawn Specialists in Lewis Center, Ohio, agrees. He adds the government’s failures to create a workable guest-worker visa program and enforce immigration laws hinders growth. The H-2B visa program is too expensive and paperwork-intensive for his firm. Meanwhile, the lack of immigration law enforcement rewards companies who break the law by hiring undocumented workers. “I’d be all for the government mandating everyone use E-Verify,” he says of the federal government’s online employee eligibility verification system. Only a few states mandate its use. “To fix the problem long-term, you have to require everyone to use it, deport (undocumented workers) and have a program that lets working people have a pass.”

In some markets, competition for labor has gotten fierce. Craig McBryde, owner of McBryde Landscape & Maintenance Solutions/Green Impact in Greenville, S.C., says his region faces a problem with other landscape companies approaching laborers on the job and offering them a higher wage than they currently make. For him, basic laborers are the scarcest. “We’re trying to be more creative about it,” he says, noting he plans to add an employee recruitment bonus and potentially advertise in an Hispanic newspaper in 2015.

For Germann, the toughest position to fill is the driving foreman. His firm is trying to combat that by paying employees all winter, even above what they make to plow snow. “We look at that as cheaper than laying them off and hiring someone else if they don’t come back,” he says.


Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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