Photos courtesy of GIE+EXPO

An ongoing question in the green industry is how to attract and keep younger employees. While it may leave many owners feeling stumped, Phil Harwood hopes to provide an answer in his workshop, “Inspiring a New Generation of Landscape Professionals,” held 1 to 2:15 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18.

Harwood is the creator of GrowTheBench, an online education resource for landscape professionals.

“Any time I’m speaking, I’m always working within the framework of what’s really the big need that everyone’s missing,” Harwood says.

With the labor crisis and the aging population of owners in the industry, Harwood explains that investing in the next generation is more important than ever.

“There’s a looming transfer of ownership in the next 10 to 20 years where all the owners who are in their fifties or sixties are going to be transferring ownership to someone else,” Harwood says. “They probably have some 20-somethings or 30-somethings on their team that they need to invest in and develop.”

While his talk will provide more of a hands-on approach, Harwood offers some tips for owners that will help them invest in and work with their next generation employees.

Get past generational differences.

“The things that they (the current owners) experienced — the management styles, techniques — are very different today than what they were 20 years ago when they were being groomed,” Harwood says.

Taking the time to relate to employees and finding a middle ground is the key step to creating an environment that attracts and retains next generation workers. Harwood will bring a next generation person on stage with him to help with this process.

Make the work matter.

Showing the impact of the work your company does can make a huge impact on your employees. Next generation employees especially want to feel like their work matters.

“People want their work to have meaning, they’re not just looking for a paycheck,” Harwood says. “It’s less about (the money) and more about feeling what they do matters.”

Investing in your company’s culture, including its mission and purpose as well as deep meaning and values, goes far in engaging that next generation and keeping them around. Things like having a company mission statement and connecting the work to that mission statement is a great way to show that their work is more than just a paycheck.

Find your employees’ strengths.

Learning how employees are wired and what their strengths are might be the key to keeping quality labor. Yet Harwood explains that some owners still expect their employees to just show up and do their job without interacting or asking questions, and it can be a huge turn off.

“There’s still an element of ‘I’m giving you a job, just shut up and do your job,’” Harwood says. “It sends the message that, ‘I don’t care about you.’ When people hear that, they check out.”

Instead, Harwood explains that owners should take the time to learn about their employees and learn what they’re passionate about, what their strengths are and how to best utilize them.

“I see a lot of next gen people frustrated because they are not given an opportunity to utilize their core strengths, so they just go somewhere else to do it,” Harwood says.

Be open-minded. 

Harwood warns employers to not buy into stereotypes about the next generation. While Harwood thinks there is some truth to them, he also says that the stereotypes surrounding younger employees have been played up.

“I see a lot of the next generation people that are very hardworking, very serious about their careers and they’re really looking for an opportunity,” Harwood says. “If you don’t (give them a chance), you’re never going to create an environment that’s going to engage people and retain them.”

For the full schedule of landscape professional education sessions, go to www.gie-expo.com/education/landscape-pros/gieexpo-workshops