Labor shortage: an epidemic plaguing the nation and affecting all industries, especially the landscaping industry. SoilKit spoke with Jess Burg the founder of Outgrow your Garage, a company that provides business expertise for those involved with the trades, and former owner of Pears to Perennials, a landscaping company, to hear her insights into the impact labor shortage has on landscaping.
The field of landscaping is already one of the lowest-paying skilled trades for entry-level positions, dissuading potential workers from the start. The pandemic, however, amplified the overall available labor force.
Furthermore, Mrs. Burg noted, “Not only are the low wages affecting that industry, but we’re finding more people want to be on the design side of the job rather than the install side. As for suppliers in landscaping, they are shrinking. There are fewer suppliers doing a greater percentage of the supply chain, which makes us more susceptible to any hiccups.”
The central root of the issue points to technology. Mrs. Burg makes a notable point: “The downside [to technology] is that fewer people are wanting to get into the trades because they would rather work on a computer all day, or remotely in the comfort of their own home.” The fast-paced advancement of technology also generates a steep learning curve for those who have been in the industry for 15-20 years and are now expected to be up to speed on not only their trades but new technologies as well.
Though, technology has a plethora of benefits to the industry, including programs that let you do site measurements from a computer using available satellite data. “Not only does this mean more accurate measurements, but also it saves time for both us and the client, which is a win-win.” Mrs. Burg elaborated, “ I also think the proliferation of online invoicing platforms has changed the game because it ensures consistency, accuracy, convenience for the client, and usually leads to getting paid faster.”
On the flip side, there is that learning curve that comes with technological advancement, as well as the expense. “When we talk about the cost of technology, it includes dollars and your time. How much time does it take to learn, use, and set up?…there aren’t enough hours in the day for a 1-5 person company to keep up with jobs while trying to keep up with learning the latest technologies.”
Anecdotally, Mrs. Burg shared, “When I was running my landscaping company, it was nearly impossible to find a CRM (customer relationship management) software that worked for small trades companies. I wanted something better than an email spreadsheet to keep track of my client information, and something that was also able to organize recurring jobs and one-time jobs.”
Mrs. Burg suggests that hiring more women, and making schedules flexible to child care, may aid in remedying labor shortages. Only 6% of landscapers in Colorado, for example, are women. “… the shortage is only going to get worse if we are limiting the number of people we can hire for those reasons.”
She urged, “We as an industry need to push for education to be accessible and affordable to smaller companies. For example, an HR company that targets blue-collar industries came out recently with a fantastic education program, except that it isn’t a good fit for anyone who has under 15 employees. A lot of newer businesses don’t have that many employees, so despite making the hiring process easier, they are cost-prohibitive for small companies that are just starting to hire a couple of people at a time… we need to petition for something that’s not only affordable but has tiers for all stages of owning a business that makes it easier to grow as a whole.”