The biggest challenge to the continued growth of our landscape/ lawn service industry is also its most obvious one. There just aren’t enough able and willing Americans to service our clients’ properties.
Don’t take this as a knock against U.S. youth; it’s not. Who am I to say that young people today are less hard working or ambitious than those of previous generations? The difference is that there are fewer of them in proportion to the size of our economy and industry. They also have many employment options. The nation’s unemployment rate is edging toward 5 percent. This is a level not seen since before 2008.
Is it surprising that young Americans would seek less demanding employment than operating a mower or laying pavers day after day, especially if the pay is essentially equal?
So, what can we do to grow our companies given this shortage of willing hands?
Obviously, we can recruit harder and smarter, perhaps enlisting and incentivizing our best employees to help find other candidates with a work ethic like theirs. Or, we can poach the best employees from other companies, including competitors.
A third option is to go the H-2B seasonal immigrant guest worker route. Yes, I know the process of hiring H-2B employees (most come from Mexico and Central America) has become increasingly expensive and its regulations tiresome to navigate.
H-2B Through The Decades
1986: Congress passes the Immigration and Control Act (IRCA) creating the H-2A program for agricultural workers and an H-2B program for non-agricultural workers.
1990: Congress stipulates that beginning in FY 1992, no more than 66,000 H-2B visas could be issued annually.
1992: U.S. Department of State issues 12,552 H-2B visas.
2003: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues 78,955 H-2B visas, and acknowledges it had exceeded the statutory limitation.
2004: USCIS issues 76,169 H-2B visas by March.
2005: H-2B applicants again prematurely exhaust the cap, but this time by Jan. 4, 2005.
2005: Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) successfully pushes the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2005 through Congress. The bill’s language exempts H-2B workers who were returning to work with the same businesses from counting against the cap. The exemption is for two years only.
2006: USCIS issues 89,000 H-2B visas with exemptions for more than 35,000 cap-exempt returning H-2B employees.
2007 & 2009: Efforts by Senator Mikulski and others to continue the H-2B returning worker exemption through FY 2012 are unsuccessful.
2012: DOL unveils rules aiming to strengthen protections for H-2B workers and also spur recruitment of Americans for such jobs. The rules make retaining and acquiring H-2B workers more complicated and expensive.
In fact, I’ve heard more than a few reports of former company owners, fed up with the program’s expense and hassle, no longer applying for any of the available 66,000 annual visas. Instead they’ve opted to downsize their companies in an effort to make them more profitable rather than bigger.
But, if you’re struggling to find good workers to help grow your company, don’t rule out H-2B. The program remains alive, if not as attractive as it was prior to 2012 when bureaucrats made it more difficult to use by revising many of its rules.
Hundreds of landscape companies still depend upon their returning H-2B workers. In 2013, the landscaping and groundskeeping sector landed 31,287 H-2B visas, more than three times the number of any other U.S. industry. The Brickman Group topped the list of with 662 positions certified. Other major program industry participants included Bio Landscape and Maintenance with 236 labor certifications, Benchmark Landscapes with 148 positions and Maldonado Nursery & Landscaping with 147 visas.
While it is too late to acquire workers through the program for this season as the seasonal “cap” for H-2B visas has already been filled, it’s something to keep in mind for 2016 if you have plans to grow your company aggressively into the future.
The process will take several months, so do your research. Also, consider working with reputable H-2B specialist, such as masLabor (maslabor.com) in Virginia or Amigos Labor Solutions (amigos-inc.com) in Texas.