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Seth’s Cut: Keeping great workers is the GOALLLL!

October 7, 2021 -  By
Seth Jones

Seth Jones

You may have noticed over the last few months that the team at LM has been making regular requests to our readers, sprinkled around the magazine and on social media, asking for you to reach out with any advice or success stories when it comes to hiring and keeping quality workers. We’ve known for months that we wanted to focus on labor in this issue, a front-of-mind topic with so many of our readers because of its many challenges. We hoped to provide some insight for those looking for innovative approaches to meet that challenge.

I’ll be honest: Our efforts didn’t quite lead to the phones ringing off the hooks. And, we anticipated as much. So, internally we had an editor’s agreement: Whenever you have a source on the phone, whether you’re talking chinch bugs or trenchers, work in a question about their local labor pool and find out if they have any success stories they can share.

When the labor topic was brought up, most of the responses were long sighs followed by expressions of total frustration. It stings a little when you hear a company is turning away work based on a lack of dependable labor, though I’m sure it stings even more for the company. Reputations and bottom lines both depend on being able to hire and retain quality employees.

What were some of the interesting techniques and methods we heard? One of my favorites was when I spoke with Mike Prokopchak, president of Annapolis, Md.-based Walnut Hill Landscape Co. for this month’s Five Questions interview (I encourage you to check out our interview way back on page 124, especially question four). Mike has been successful in retaining employees since he started his company in 2006. His first employee is still with him, and he’s had 11 people celebrate 10-year anniversaries.

One of his secrets: a soccer field.

“My backyard is a soccer field where the guys play every day after work,” Mike told me. “It was 95 degrees here yesterday, 100-percent humidity, and after work, there were 20 people playing soccer!”

Imagine what access to a private first-class soccer field does for his crew’s morale each day. Walnut Hill is changing locations, upgrading its space and getting a new shop. Mike realized the significance of that soccer field and already built a first-class soccer pitch at the company’s new location. He joked with me that they’ve considered challenging other landscape companies to come play a match, and maybe the pristine field might lure them to switch teams.

This month’s labor story eventually came together. (Prokopchak’s soccer pitch didn’t make the story but hey, it made it here!) You can find, “Twice the work, half the workers,” penned by Editor Christina Herrick, on page 16. In the story, you’ll find a diverse group of sources discussing this problem and some possible solutions.

A shoutout to the company featured on the cover, Plants Creative in Scottsdale, Ga. The photo shoot we arranged with Pam Dooley, president, was for general labor shots as well as another labor-saver: The crew was installing a Husqvarna Automower on a customer’s property. Robotic or autonomous mowers isn’t something we touched on in this issue, but we’ll write on that topic in a future issue. Maybe that’s the answer?

“There’s no silver bullet. We’re going to have to try different things,” Andrew Bray, vice president of government relations for the NALP, told us. “What works in California might not work in Florida. I think you need to be smart and adapt to your environment and your community.”

Maybe there is no silver bullet when it comes to competing for workers in a tight labor market, but I’ll go back to the soccer field at Walnut Hill and what I hear most often from readers: It’s about treating people right.

“We have a good group of guys; we’re like a family,” Prokopchak told me. “To see the smiles on their faces is pretty neat, it’s exciting.”

This article is tagged with , and posted in 1021, Editor's Note, Featured, From the Magazine
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 in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 19 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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