Working on the workers

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Whether it’s fixing your culture or investing in better technology, the green industry is looking for ways to fix the lack of quality labor. At the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Workforce Development Summit, people from inside and outside the industry contributed ways to solve the labor crisis. Here are some takeaways from the event:

Devils in the details. Many business owners can specifically cite reasons why customers should do business with them. But when they talk about why someone should want to work at their company, the answers aren’t as clear. You have to go beyond the overarching statements like “we’re family” or “we have fun.” Not only does the organization need to establish what makes them a better employer than the competition, the employees have to be genuine in their answers when asked about it. “They have to answer it so quick, and it can’t be rehearsed,” said Eric Chester, a workforce development author and speaker, who kicked off the event. “It has to come from them.”

Survey says. When is the last time you surveyed front line people? Chester recommends asking three questions regularly of frontline employees. 1. What do you like about working here 2. What don’t you like about working here? 3. If you were in charge, what would you be doing? These have to be asked without repercussion or, when the answers are delivered, greeted without argument from the manager.

On your feet. Chester said he interviewed Bill Marriot, executive chairman of Marriot Hotels, and Marriot told him every leader is required to hold a 5-minute stand-up meeting every day. Why a stand-up meeting? Because “when you sit down, you get down.” Standing up you are “eye to eye, belly to belly,” Chester said. During the meeting three items are addressed – staff are told what they are doing well. Then areas of improvement are covered (though not calling out individuals). Finally, staff are asked what they need to be more successful at their job. If the request can’t be met, make sure the reason is explained.

Reaching out to local high schools (and even younger schools) is something the industry has been turning to as a way of exposing the younger generation to landscaping as a career. But when approaching high schools about exposing kids to the industry, don’t focus on what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. Landscare’s Mark Hopkins, regional vice president at LandCare, said some of the schools he worked with had facilities like greenhouses, or equipment they weren’t fully-utilizing, which LandCare could help with. He added LandCare is working with 24 high schools in four states and said none of the students were aware of landscaping as a career. You also need to follow-up relentlessly since the contacts at school are busy like you, and you may not hear back initially. “You’ll get discouraged before you have success,” he says.

Robot revolution. Frank Mariani, CEO of Mariani Landscapes, has recently began deploying robotic mowers as a service and anticipates having 100 machines on lawns by the end of 2020, with 5,000 labor hours saved and no jobs eliminated. Mowing labor can be moved over to blowing, edging and trimming, which will elevate the quality of the work, Mariani says. When rolling out the program, he says to let clients know that the first month the lawn may look like “a bad haircut” because of the mowing pattern. He added to try the service out on a customer who is interested in sustainable practices before charging for the service.

No turf talk. Tyler Bloom is the superintendent at Sparrows Point Country Club in Baltimore, Maryland and had a major turnover problem. That was until he shifted his focus to developing his club’s culture and recruiting high school kids who he could mold into qualified employees. The shift worked, and he hasn’t had to replace someone in two years. One piece of recruiting advice was to avoid leading with the specifics of the job when speaking with a potential candidate. Instead, focus on what the potential employee will learn when it comes to leadership, and show them the career path for growth.



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