There are several economic indicators fueling some optimism in the lawn care market, from existing home values to consumer confidence to rising disposable incomes. With great opportunity, though, comes a greater need for great employees.
If you’re like most contractors, finding and retaining good employees has become more difficult. You bring back a core group of solid performers year after year, but also find yourself having to deal with a revolving door. Recruiting can become costly and burdensome, as can training.
The National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) has created a tool that can help. Its Lawn Care Technician Training program is designed to get new technicians up and running in no more than 15 training days. The program focuses on key learning objectives in the areas of customer service, turf and insect identification, fertilizers and pesticides, proper application techniques, and safety.
Each day is a different lesson. There is a written piece the employee reads and goes over with his or her trainer. Then there is a written test. Additionally, each lesson is provided in a PowerPoint presentation, which helps trainers to train several employees at a single time in a group setting.
The program was developed a few ago by NALP’s Lawn Care Specialty Group, which included a couple of suppliers and nearly a dozen lawn care contractors. Andrew Ziehler, owner and CEO of Ziehler Lawn and Tree Care in Centerville, OH, was one of those contractors.
“We as a group were working on ideas to help companies succeed—especially smaller companies and new companies just coming into the business,” Ziehler says. “We all agreed that there was a real need for training. A lot of contractors know what they need to do, but it’s all in their heads. They need a system. So we came up with this 15-day training program.”
Originally based on content provided by Jim Wilkinson, Ph.D., president of SeaScape in Coventry, RI, the final product is the culmination of best practices from several of the brightest minds in lawn care. On that note, Ziehler has even implemented the program in his own company.
“The 15-day training program really gives you a strong foundation for training,” Ziehler says. “It then serves as a great launching pad for continuing education within your company to help you develop the best technicians you can.”
Ziehler’s company has grown in recent years, more than 30% over the past year alone. He expects to employ around 25 people this season, many of them first-year hires. “We focus a lot on culture and employee retention, but we’re growing,” he says. “So we’re continually having to bring on new people. We also put our new salespeople through our 15-day new technician training.”
Two out of three new hires are coming from outside of the lawn care and landscaping industry, which makes thorough, efficient and consistent training all the more important. “We prefer to go after employees with attributes that fit our culture, and then train them on the technical aspects of their job,” Ziehler points out.
That approach makes a ton of sense. It takes a narrowing labor pool and opens it up a whole lot wider. Tools such as the 15-day lawn care technician training program make it much more practical to do so.