Like so many others in the Green Industry, finding good labor has been a major challenge for Michael Pickel, owner of Pickel Landscape Group in Landenberg, Pennsylvania. Pickel says he believes there just isn’t a tremendous amount of interest in labor-intensive jobs these days, and that’s hurting the industry. Last year he felt the pinch more than ever. As the busy season in 2016 approached, Pickel simply wasn’t getting the response to job postings that he’d hoped and for the first time, turned to the H2-B program for help. Though the future of the program is uncertain, Pickel says it was incredibly helpful in solving his labor shortage and he hopes to use it again.
Of course, Pickel says he’d love to see more interest in the landscaping profession among today’s students.
“I think we, as an industry, need to do a better job of talking about the profession while students are still in high school,” Pickel says. “The fact is that landscaping isn’t a job that graduates are thinking about. I think in general, our society looks down on manual labor and has a negative perception of what our industry is all about.”
While industry groups like the National Association of Landscape Professionals have started to make a difference in building interest and changing the industry’s perception — and Pickel says he has hope for the future — he still needed a solution in the short-term to his labor crisis. That’s why Pickel turned to H-2B, despite some uncertainty with how it would pan out. He says he was definitely nervous about trying it for the first time.
Though his workers were delayed (as were so many others across the country as government legislation slowed its wheels), Pickel was ultimately very pleased with the result.
“They were excellent workers — eager to work and quick to learn,” Pickel says. “Three of the five had previous experience and were able to get right to work, and the other two learned the trade quickly. It ended up being such a relief to have that void filled and was a great experience.”
With the extra help, Pickel says his company was able to do an extra $100,000, and he hopes to be able to utilize the program again. Like so many others, he sees tremendous value in the H-2B program for landscapers.
“The H-2B program is invaluable to our industry,” Pickel says. “Without it, the consumer will suffer. Either the cost of quality work will go up greatly because of the amount we would have to pay people to produce said work; or the quality of our work will suffer as we would have to hire anyone with a pulse to try and produce work just to keep up. Congress and our new president need to be realistic and admit that there are some jobs that Americans are just not interested in.”
Our Like a Boss series highlights some common business challenges landscape professionals face and how they conquer them.