Monthly Musings: How to Remedy the Labor Problem

In Green Industry Pros' second installment of Monthly Musings, we asked readers how they are contending with the labor challenge.

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In Green Industry Pros' second installment of Monthly Musings, we tapped readers to tell us how they are contending with the labor challenge. 

Finding labor

After reviewing responses from a survey and discussing the issue with several others in the industry, it became clear that while the labor issue is one problem (and a rather large one at that), there are various ways to go about attacking the problem. 

In the survey, we asked if respondents had found success in finding labor using hiring platforms (such as LinkedIn or Indeed), word of mouth, referral bonuses or anything else. Of the respondents, more than half said they used referral bonuses and hiring platforms. A few others said they were evaluating the option of autonomous machines, and one said they were shrinking business. 

In a recent interview, Johny Crooks, owner of Blades of Grass Lawn Care in Atlanta, Ga., says he recruits employees by visiting local colleges in his area.

"A lot of us in the industry are dealing with the employee issue, and the reality is that nowadays, a lot of younger people don't want to be outside," Crooks says. "With social media, everybody thinks they can just make an indoor dance video and get a ton of publicity and make a lot of money. So, I will go to local colleges and let the campus know I'm hiring, and you find a lot of guys that will come out and work part time." 

In a recent Turf's Up Radio News segment, Jay Worth, marketing manager at SingleOps, spoke about the various ways landscape companies can attract more employees.

"First, review your wages and benefits. How are you compensating people? Are you comparable with your competitors and with other industries that are equally labor intensive? We fall into this trap of thinking we're only competing with the guy in a truck down the street, but you're competing with construction, with warehouses and with facilities maintenance for labor," Worth says. "Secondly, you need to work in your company culture. Make sure you have company values, core values and that you do everything you can to communicate those, and you equip your team for the tasks you've asked them to do. The third way is to have a really strong referral program, make everyone eligible and make sure it's worth their time to refer a friend or a family member."

Efficiently using labor

In order to save on the labor his company does have, Pete Lucadano, co-owner of Redtree Landscape Systems in Holiday, Fla., says he has started to reevaluate his maintenance clients to be selective about where his current employees spend their time. 

"Maintenance is a very expensive apparatus to keep in place between the trucks, the personnel, the equipment, the insurance," Lucadano says. "You have to be really choosy about where you where you put those crews."

Jon Brandt, owner of J. Brandt Landscaping & Excavating in Elizabethtown, Pa., uses a different tactic to be more efficient with the employees he already has on board. He has introduced robotic mowers into his company. 

The company currently has 44 robotic mowers in its fleet, all of them from Husqvarna. 

"We went from 110 hours of manual labor a week to 60 hours a week by using robots," Brandt says. "Almost any contractor will tell you there's not a slew of people beating down the door to mow grass. I'm saving labor, I'm saving fuel and I'm saving in noise pollution. We think (robotic mowers) are the future of our industry to meet the challenges with the lack of qualified labor along with the regulations coming from government agencies regarding gas powered equipment."

Brandt adds that the robotic mowers never call in sick, and they can also help with mowing dangerous areas to reduce the chance of an employee slipping and falling, for example, on a steep slope. 

For anyone thinking about incorporating robotic mowers, Brandt suggests designating a dedicated person to manage the mowers.

"Just like any other part of our business, I had to have someone focus on it every day to make sure the mowers were performing," Brandt says. "Our robotic mower tech’s job is managing the mowers. He works part time and can set his own schedule. I help out with mowers that need attention if they get stuck or run over something."

Retaining labor

Once employees are in the door, retaining them is an entirely different issue. 

In order to keep people once they walk through the door of your company, Worth suggests the following strategies:

  • Listen to employees, especially when they discuss any potential roadblocks they're facing. 
  • Be flexible about paid time off. 
  • Recognize employees' wins publicly and address issues privately. 

Overall, building a strong recruitment and retention strategy will help lead to the success of your company. 

"Your team is what drives your success. If you can't keep a consistent team, you're out of business," Worth says. "It's also so much cheaper and easier to keep the team you've got (than recruit more team members) just by being thoughtful and deliberate."

Have you found any other successful ways to attract and retain good employees? Connect with me on LinkedIn or email me your ideas at [email protected]. I'd love to hear them! 

You can find the March 2024 Monthly Musings survey here about landscape pros' preferred type of mower.