Eric Chester knows the landscaping business. He worked his way through high school and college caring for people’s lawns.
“Nobody woke up and said ‘some day I hope I can install sprinklers’” he says. “Those aren't sexy jobs. But it doesn't mean that they can't be fun, pay well and be meaningful career employment. It's just that we don't have a generation that is focused on that.”
The labor pool seems small, and Chester, also a former high school teacher, has spent time in the trenches with the exact generation of workers that so many companies are trying to employ.
“There's a prevailing attitude of the current workforce: You need me, I don't know if I need you because I could quit here. I have three job offers before lunch. I can swing a bat and hit five help wanted signs,” he says.
In his soon-to-be-released book “Fully Staffed: The Definitive Guide for Finding and Keeping Great Employees in the Worst Labor Market Ever,” Chester digs in on recruiting and retention tactics that professionals may not have considered until this point. He’s presenting some takeaways from his book at NALP’s Workforce Summit next month. “Every second will be spent on your workforce, and we're not just talking about young people. We're talking about a broad spectrum of people,” he says.
“You don’t have to be Google. But if you’re a small landscaping company in Bismarck, North Dakota, you just have to make sure you’re the best small landscaping in Bismarck, North Dakota.”
A great place to work.
“There’s nothing I'm going to tell an audience about recruiting that is going to be effective if you're not a great place to work because they're just going to leave and you're going to be on the hire-and-fire-hire-fire treadmill forever,” he says. And, to be a great place to work, Chester has found several things that, no matter the age, a person will always look for in an employment opportunity.
- Compensation. “They want a paycheck,” he says.
- Alignment. “They want to align themselves with a company that is doing good things.”
- Culture. “You must be continually working on your culture.”
Think of YOU first.
Chester says doing some self-reflection is key. You need to identify what makes your company better than every single one of your competitors. “That is your reason for why your company is a good place to work,” he says. And, that goes beyond having a Christmas party every year or barbecues when the weather gets nice, he says. “Until you can give me another answer, you don’t know why your company is a good place to work.”
Be a relentless recruiter.
It’s not just posting jobs on job sites, Chester says. “Everybody does that. What are you doing to recruit and not just you, the business owner. How is everybody in your organization involved in that pursuit?” Instilling the importance of recruitment at all levels will arm you with multiple recruiters who can reach audiences that you may not even be aware of.
“Do you have other sprinkler installers looking for sprinkler installers? They're probably going to find sprinkler installers before you do. That's who they hang out with,” he says. Business owners should educate their staff on what to look for in a good employee and how they can be recruiting people. And, you should be thinking about what you can do to reward those who do recruit well.
It’s not just posting on job sites. How is everyone in your company working as a recruiter?
Think outside the box.
While it seems obvious, Chester says there are many groups of people that companies still miss when trying to recruit, even in this industry. He offers insights into sources of labor that companies may not have considered and also addresses how to go about recruiting them.
“It’s not just about hiring veterans: it’s where to find them and who exactly you’re looking for,” he says. Another often overlooked route is hiring employees with special needs. “There are people out there who can do far more than you give them credit for,” he says. Chester even suggests recruiting retirees who often take jobs to keep them busy. “Are you aware that there are many retirees that are 60 years old or even older that can work the 20-year-old under the table,” he says.
Putting it to scale.
“I’m all about giving solid, actionable ideas,” he says. And it’s not just about looking to large companies and corporations for advice.
“You don’t have to be Google. But if you’re a small landscaping company in Bismarck, North Dakota, you just have to make sure you’re the best small landscaping in Bismarck, North Dakota,” Chester says. “Everybody that's smacking their pillow at night going ‘dammit, so-and-so called in sick again and I don't have enough to complete that crew’… they're going to understand what it takes to connect with the people that they need so desperately in their business.”