“Plow drivers as well as sidewalk crews work ungodly hours in horrendous conditions — and the public often doesn’t have a lot of respect for what they do,” explains John Allin, president of John Allin Consulting and SIMA founder.
Grabbing hold of and hanging onto the best ones of the lot is challenging at best. And to make matters worse in the hiring process, you’ve got to ensure the following elements are met: Working long and arduous hours, being on call for months on end, and being okay about taking on a less than prestigious position. Considering these challenges, open positions can go unfilled for months.
The first question to come up is most likely what kind of dedicated human resources function should your company employ.
“In smaller companies — the office manager or the owner often function in the HR capacity,” Allin says. “Someone should have that role even in conjunction with other duties. HR today is a huge component of operating any company. The rules are varied and sometimes not obvious. The recordkeeping requirements sometimes seem onerous, but if someone functions in the HR role, once learned, those requirements are fairly easy to keep up.”
At BCLS Landscape Services, HR functions in accordance with an org chart that falls under its VP of Administration. The Richmond, Virginia-based company hires up to 40 employees during snow events, accounting for 20-25 percent of its overall annual revenues. “It’s not uncommon to work as a team between myself, our office manager and VP of Admin to handle all HR concerns,” explains BCLS COO Howard Rose.
For Knott’s Land Care, a company with half the amount of snow management staff as BCLS, there is no dedicated HR director, typical of most small snow management companies. President Douglas Knott conducts most of the interviewing and hiring at this Amherst, New Hampshire-company where 40 percent of annual revenues come from snow management. Admin takes care of the HR-related paperwork, and other staff assist in interviews.”
Hire for attitude and fit
When hiring the best crew for the job, Allin believes attitude is first and foremost. “You can train people to clear snow efficiently, but with a bad attitude, any small issue can escalate quickly,” he says. “We all know that this is outdoor work, in the extreme — and a lousy attitude toward the weather or any other perceived obstacle can quickly override the wage that comes with the work. All other qualifications are a distant second.”
At Troy Clogg Landscape Associates, culture is most important and that’s why it also prioritizes attitude during the hiring process. “Applicants take a personality profile test before hiring,” says Operations Director Matt Scott. “We use this data together with interviews to determine a good cultural fit. Due to the long, irregular hours associated with snow removal we look for people with a great attitude, and that includes a willingness to learn. We push our team members to develop new skills.”
Both Knott and Rose also believe attitude is key. Knott also looks for reliability and experience as an important part of the mix. Rose looks for a level head and a problem solver in chaotic times with knowledge of equipment and confidence in the work.
When it comes to recruitment, most snow experts agree that word of mouth is the most important tool. But that can’t be relied upon exclusively. Other tactics include job fairs, advertisements, social media platforms such as Facebook and Craigslist, phone solicitation and college recruitment.
Keys to retention
The service-based economy and its workforce is changing. “Major retailers are advertising wages that are creeping up to $12, $14 even $16 an hour for basic stock work, so we must define our jobs in a new way to recruit workers,” says Rose. Knott also points out that the presence of national companies driving down pricing leaves less room to pay well. Scott says that his go-to for many years has been contractors from asphalt, cement and excavating, but with the upturn in the economy these contractors have been too busy and not as readily available.
So, what can the savvy snow management company do to hang on to these coveted workers?
“You have to ‘wow’ snow workers just like you ‘wow’ regular workers on a day to day basis,” says Rose. “Culture, safety standards, leadership and competitive pay will keep your organization sticky.” He likes to hand out $20 bills as another gesture to his crews that have just given him an 18-hour snow shift just as another gesture.
“If crew workers perceive that company management lacks respect for what they do, problems ensue,” Allin says. “If employees are treated with respect, that word spreads — even in winter.”