by Courtney Llewellyn
The labor shortage is continuing throughout all sectors of the American economy, including agriculture and horticulture. And Neal Glatt, managing partner with GrowTheBench.com, believes the problem is only going to grow more dire in this industry.
That’s why Glatt, along with Bruce Hellerick, director of technical services for the northeast region of BrightView Landscape Services, Carrie Hancock of the Seasonal Color Department at Landscape Concepts Management, and Leslie Herndon, president of Greenscape Inc., participated in a panel on labor efficiency through innovations at Cultivate’21.
“The number one conversation, regardless of the sector, is labor,” Herndon reiterated. “But it depends on the level of help. For us, it’s especially evident at the crew level, but we’re also seeing issues at the middle management level.” She said they’re seeing less college graduates applying and less potential employees interested in retail. “We have to get the right team members invested,” she added.
Drawing those good team members involves the “counter-offer dance with all levels,” Hancock said. With job seekers holding more power, they’re looking for the highest pay, the best benefits and the most compatible company cultures.
Fortunately, there are some jobs – even in horticulture – that can be outsourced, or even shared. Herndon said her company outsourced their entire accounting team, which helped them on their back end. “And we get the expertise of a large accounting firm,” she stated. “We’re looking at this for HR too. We’re asking ‘How do we put that burden on someone else and keep our key team members?’” Greenscape Inc. also employs a fractional chief financial officer, which means they only need that person for a portion of their week. Herndon said it helps them leverage their resources.
Hellerick said one of the keys to creating good people is to keep them working over winter instead of laying them off. That’s much more efficient than starting from scratch every spring. Winter duties could include deep cleaning, preparation and other tasks that may be put on the back burner during the busy season.
There are a wide variety of apps and software systems available to help businesses streamline too. WhatsApp was mentioned specifically for employee communication.
Hancock uses CrewMobile instead of timesheets. “It took lots of training but it works really well now,” she said. “Our crew has embraced it.” Glatt added that using a mobile timecard is a lot easier and cheaper now than it was even a few years ago. If you’re tech savvy enough, you can even create your own form for recording hours with a number apps; Google Forms is free.
Other subjects mentioned by the panel to make things run more efficiently included:
- Investing in safety. “That has actually increased efficiency, rather than being a burden,” Hellerick said. Properly used PPE and training on equipment led to less injuries and less downtime with his company.
- Focusing on preparation. Hancock said her crews prep everything they need for the next day’s jobs the night before so they can start the morning fresh and ready. She mentioned using RFID tags to scan equipment to make sure everything is in place.
- Leasing equipment. While this may sound like an extra expense, it doesn’t have to be. Leased equipment means workers can focus on their tasks and not have to double as mechanics. Depending on your budget and range of work, you can use a local business or a national company.
- Using a fuel delivery service. Again, paying a little more up front may save a lot in the long run, especially in time spent filling up at gas stations, where prices can vary a lot over the course of a season.
- Creating a “mobile branch.” If your business involves a lot of back and forth travel from a central location that might not be so central, find out if certain customers wouldn’t mind storing some of your equipment or goods temporarily.