When I ask contractors about their biggest concerns, the subject of employees is almost always near the top of their list. Landscape and lawn service business owners tell me that young, reliable, teachable workers are hard to find. They don't need to be experienced: they just need to have a good attitude, be reliable and honest, and be willing to learn.
It seems there's a shortage of these candidates in many regional markets. With the national unemployment number above 8 percent (many economists insist it's much higher) the obvious question is why? Why aren't more young people looking for employment in the service industries, and especially in the landscape trade? After all, the green industry offers the opportunity to work outside and, in many cases, be involved with challenging, ever-changing projects.
The answer to the scarcity of abundant good young workers in this faltering economy is complicated. It gets into issues of generational demographics and the many other educational and career opportunities now available to young people.
Yes, it's easy (too easy) to blame the situation on the laziness or lack of ambition of today's young people. And I've on occasion felt that way, too, especially when I looked back on my summers hoeing and picking vegetables on the small family farm and the farms of neighbors. But, I was wrong on this. Dead wrong. And I'm convinced that anybody else going down that road is wrong, too. Young people today are no lazier or less motivated than young people of my baby boom generation that, of course, is the only generation I can use as reference.
I worked hot, long days on those truck farms because that was the best option I had at the time for earning money to buy gas for my V-8 Ford and take my sweetie to the local Big Boy restaurant or drive-in. There were a lot of us young baby boomers in the job market then. Most of us had to take whatever we could get in the way of paying jobs.
No, laziness or lack of ambition is not the reason for the scarcity of young people eager to work for us. There's plenty of proof to the contrary.
Several thousand students - young men and young women - compete in PLANET's Student Career Days each March. If you've ever been a part of the event you know that these young people are anything but lazy or lacking in drive. Need more proof?
The annual FFA Convention & Expo draws than 53,000 members, guests and associates each year. Most are young men and women, members of the FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America. Some industry suppliers and a few of the largest landscape companies recruit at the FFA Convention.
That's tough for most landscape companies, though, because the FFA Convention usually takes place at or about the same time as the GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Ky., the landscape industry's largest trade show. This year, the FFA event in Indianapolis is Oct. 24-27, while the GIE+EXPO in Louisville is Oct. 25-26.
Let's remove the lazy tag from the young people we're trying to attract to our industry and realize they have a lot more job options than most of us had at the same age. When we as an industry start offering young adults more definable career opportunities, we'll be better able to get them to join our teams.
5 Things Your Best
New Employees Crave
That sucking sound you hear is the whoosh of progressive landscape companies vacuuming up most of the young, sharp talent available to the green industry. These are the young adults that come in as entry-level field supervisors or designers and progress into ever-more-responsible positions within organizations.
Smart companies are constantly on the lookout for that next valuable young team member. They stay engaged with schools and guidance counselors in their markets. They participate in job fairs. They promote their company and the industry by participating in service organizations and at community events.
Not only do they talk the talk, they walk the walk.
1.) Manage responsibly so that employees know someone is in charge, knows what they're doing, and that they're leading them and the organization in the right direction.
2.) Treat employees with respect, including providing them with feedback, direction when they need it, and praise when they've earned it.
3.) Keep employees informed so that they realize they're part of team and, equally important, what their particular roles mean to the team's success.
4.) Offer employees the opportunity to learn new skills, increase their knowledge and progress in their careers.
5.) Allow employees to be involved and empower them to make decisions involving their duties - at an appropriate level, of course.
While even your best laid plans may not work out for each and every new hire, the keepers will blossom and reward your company many times over if you give them the respect, guidance and leadership they crave.
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