Grower 101: Labor Sources

March 11, 2004 - 14:00

How to successfully locate and recruit quality part-time employees.

One would think that with the current job market and high unemployment rates, recruiting employees for your operation would be as easy as putting a Help Wanted sign in the window. Think again. Quality employees are hard to find, and a long, extensive search could be very costly. This article, part of the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) RecruitScapes series, provides some helpful tips and sources on attracting, quality labor.

Local High Schools

Approximately three years ago, through self-evaluation, our company, New Dimensions Landscape Inc., Ganesvoort, N.Y., realized that although we had adequate capital, equipment and market to grow, our weakest link was finding a sufficient number of quality employees to help realize our growth goals. In an effort to increase our exposure to and attract potential employees, we began locally and came up with the following ideas that have proved helpful in our recruiting efforts:
We targeted the local vocational high school, which has a horticulture program. Our goal was to establish a strong relationship with the program, its faculty, and students and to be perceived as the local leading green industry company in the minds of the department’s participants.

Setting the stage. In order to accomplish this, we launched a program with the school that brings landscape students to our nursery each day for two weeks, for two-and-a-half hours a day. At our facility, the students are able to get hands-on exposure to the industry and supplement what they are learning in the classroom. The greatest benefit of this program to our company is that we get to meet, not just a few interested students, but the whole class. We establish a rapport with the students that often leads to longer-term relationships with some through summer work and after-graduation positions with our company. Of course, we also appreciate the no-cost help we get at the nursery when the class visits.

Strengthening the relationship. In order to establish our company as a leading industry employer, we invite the entire class to attend a local trade show. After contacting our local landscape association with our idea, we were able to get the show’s admission fee waved for the whole class. At lunchtime, company representatives ride on the school bus with the students and teachers to a company-sponsored lunch. The cost of this activity is minor in comparison to the positive impact it has on the relationship between our company and the school.
We have found that by developing a strategic alliance with our local vocational school, we have gained so many opportunities for our company. We are now regularly invited to parent/student days, where the parents get to know us better, so they more readily endorse their children’s summer or future employment with our company.

I am proud to say that since this relationship has been developed, we have enjoyed being able to choose to offer employment to only the best entry-level people available in our community. In fact, we receive so many inquiries from interested students that we are unable to offer employment slots to everyone. This partnership is a great solution to a common recruiting challenge. While this is not our only effort to attract employees, it has become an integral and successful part of our recruiting program for entry-level, trainable people.

—Randall A. Countermine

New Dimensions Landscape, Inc.

Ganesvoort, N.Y.

Nontraditional Labor Sources

At various times throughout the work year, we all face, with varying degrees of dread, the need to find and attract new employees to fill our workforce needs. Here are some additional “nontraditional” labor sources that can help in your search.

Employee referrals. This is not a new idea, but it is much too important not to mention. Put the word out. Let your employees know that you have positions available. The chances are excellent that most employee referrals will be good ones. Be creative with an incentive Á plan to reward employees that provide good referrals — maybe $100 for a new applicant that is hired and stays with your company for some predetermined time period.

Classified advertising. Not very “nontraditional,” but it is still very important not to overlook advertising in the small local newspapers that otherwise might be overshadowed by your large-circulation dailies. I find that job applicants who respond to ads in the small weekly papers are generally more serious in their job search and may not have the transportation problems or other difficulties that often prevent potential employees from keeping their interview appointments and getting to work on an ongoing basis. Those seeking part-time work also respond well to these ads, since they are usually seeking employment close to home.

Recession recruits. Here is one of those new sources I mentioned. Check your local news media for word of closings and downsizing in your area. Grab the phone and call the personnel or human resource offices at the companies involved. They will probably be overjoyed to refer some of their departing employees to you. What’s more, these departing employees may even include management-potential and/or highly trained individuals. Don’t overlook a company because you think that an industry is not related to your company. Good job seekers are adaptable.

Chamber of Commerce. Although it is not the first place you think of when looking for employees, the local Chamber of Commerce nonetheless provides its members with another networking opportunity that may work well for those companies in smaller communities where most members are well acquainted.

Perhaps a member has interviewed an attractive applicant but just didn’t have a position available at the time of the interview, or maybe another member would like to be able to refer current employees elsewhere when cutbacks are anticipated at his/her company — you may be able to take advantage of these kinds of situations when you are looking for job applicants.

Local clubs and organizations. These types of special-interest groups can lead you to possible employees who are not otherwise in the job market. A local garden club might bring you in contact with a very knowledgeable individual who would love to work part-time and earn extra dollars by putting to work what was otherwise just a hobby.

Church and school contacts. These contacts offer numerous possibilities of finding new employees. Many churches sponsor support groups that actively aid applicants in locating work. This is especially true in many areas with large non-English-speaking labor populations. Check out local bulletin boards for items from such groups.

Moreover, school opportunities come in many forms. By speaking at PTA meetings or school-sponsored organizations, you can gain contacts or initiate inquiries about employment. Many schools have work-study programs that can provide part-time possibilities or lead to good seasonal worker prospects. Maintain contact with teachers who are active with horticultural groups in your school. Perhaps, you can even become involved in some sort of local beautification projects that will bring interested individuals to your attention.

Industry Associations. Your local associations can also be real assets to you. Programs like ALCA’s Student Career Days offer great opportunities for exposure to interested, potential employees. In some instances, you can showcase your own firm by hosting an event or setting up a booth or display.

Every market is different, and something that works well in some areas simply won’t work in others. Think about the items listed above for a few seconds. Is there a new idea there that you might pursue? You never know where great employees might be hiding. Try one of the sources mentioned in this article to add someone to your team today.

This article was reprinted with the written permission from the Associated Landscape Contractors of America. For more information go to www.alca.org.

About The Author

—Tony Moe, Belly Nursery, Inc. Burtonsville, Md.

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