The lack of available labor is an ongoing nation-wide dilemma that impacts nearly every state and industry to some degree. As businesses in both the landscape and snow industries, as well as their clients and customer base, continue to recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis is one of numbers. There are simply more job vacancies than there are workers.
While the COVID vaccine roll-out did get people back to work, many business leaders and economics say it wasn’t enough to fill available vacancies. In fact, a survey this spring conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (of the leaders of state and local chambers of commerce) found that more than 90% of respondents believed the “lack of available workers” was slowing the growth of their respective local economics. In addition, in a survey conducted by the chamber of top trade-association economists, 88% of those respondents felt it was “somewhat difficult” for businesses in their respective industries to hire and retain workers.
These broader claims and challenges mirror those being made by those in the snow and ice management industry. In Snow Magazine’s 2021 State of the Industry report, the majority of respondents identified attracting quality labor as some sort of immediate business challenge, with 59% of those respondents labeling the pressure either “significant” (43%) or “insurmountable” (16%). With regard to the challenges associated with retaining that labor, 85% identified it as an issue they were dealing with, while 35% deemed it a “significant” challenge and 16% saw it as “insurmountable.”In fact, recent research indicates more than three quarters (81%) of snow professionals believe the current snow labor market is worse than it was prior to the COVID outbreak in March 2020, with nearly half (44%) labeling it “much worse.”
While many service-oriented businesses countered these labor-induced challenges by reducing hours or scaling back the scope of their operations, both landscape and snow and ice management have been deemed essential services. In particular, snow and ice management services are vital to keep the wheels of commerce rotating during the winter months. Likewise, their services are essential to maintaining safe pavement surfaces on not only retail and commercial spaces, but also medical and hospital facilities. Snow and ice professionals must answer the call when the snow falls.
Without a doubt, these are deep and complex challenges for the professional snow and ice management industry. Lawn & Landscape and Snow magazines, along with partner BOSS Snowplow, wanted to dig a bit deeper into these issues to identify trends that could help alleviate the business pressures surrounding hiring and retention of seasonal personnel as we enter Winter 2021-22.
Beginning in late September, editors at Lawn & Landscape and Snow magazines developed a survey that was administered to professional snow and ice management contractors via the online research portal, SurveyMonkey. The data from that research was reviewed and compiled to identify some key trends, specifically the depth of hiring challenges, the scope of contractors hiring practices, as well as the competitive challenges vying for labor within the snow and ice management community.
To provide added depth, comparisons were made on some key issues against the scope or size of operations based on billable snow and ice revenue of more-than and less-than $500,000 representing a mid-sized to large-scale snow business vs less-than-mid-size to small-scale operation, respectively.