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Securing an adequate quantity of talent has been highest on the business leader’s challenge list for quite a while now. In many cases, the quality of talent available is also a matter of frustration. Many businesses have had to forego otherwise possible growth opportunities because they simply can’t find and retain enough quality workers. Could there be anything more troubling to an entrepreneur or business leader than turning away new business? It seems unnatural, wrong, and contrary to the entire premise of what it means to be in business. But it’s reality for so many.

I’d call it fair to argue if we’re on the other side of this global pandemic. I believe for the most part we are. You may think differently - that’s okay. What I think we can agree on is that this pandemic has taken a challenging situation and made it, if not worse, at least much more complicated.

While identifying problems with the system or in the market is the easy part, it’s the solutions that matter the most. And the right solution may even provide for a competitive advantage.

We began changing our thinking long before the pandemic, a way of thinking that’s now become more of a necessity than just a strategy. Like most things that work, it’s simple but not easy. I believe two of the most important strategies a company can deploy to recruit and retain quality talent in today’s challenging labor market is, first, move the primary focus and energy away from finding experienced workers and instead, focus and direct the energy towards training, development, and improving employee engagement. Second, provide today’s workers a job they actually want to do, a real career path, and make them feel significant. Stick with me, I’ll explain.

Training, Development and Improving Employee Engagement

I could write a whole article, or perhaps even a book, about why this is a better strategy than combing applications and resumes hoping to find someone who can hit the ground running. For starters, those who can hit the ground running run their direction not yours. I’m not going to try to convince you that after a few weeks of training, someone will be more proficient than someone else with years of experience. Although, you may be surprised how quickly proficiency can be achieved from quality training compared to experience alone. Yes, I acknowledge we do tend to get better at a task overtime. Experience can do that, but experience is also a slow teacher. There’s only so much we can learn from ourselves, even with years of experience. We need the experience of others, be it formal training, schooling, books, videos, mentors, or whatever.

You have 10 years of experience. That’s great. You got really, really good at only what you know. Now, tell me you’ve been in a field for ten years and worked under more advanced mentors, received high quality training, read 29 books on the topic, sat through 80 hours of seminars and have demonstrated significant improvement over time; now and only now do I see tremendous value in your ten years of experience. You get the idea and see where I’m going with this.

Being willing and able to provide high quality training benefits the organization many ways. First, you open the door to a lot more candidates when you stop over prioritizing experience in your recruiting efforts. In a tough labor market that’s not getting any easier, that’s a good thing. If we’re being honest, with respect to the basics, most of what we do can be taught relatively quickly. Training and employee development is an investment. We need to get away from expecting new hires to produce billable work on day one. The new hire, the organization, and our clients deserve better.

When we invest in training and professional development for our people, retention rates improve. Employees value training and professional development. It feels like we are investing in them, and we are.

We all want to feel important. We want to feel significant. We want what we do to make a noticeable difference. When you make your people feel important, feel significant, and when they recognize the difference their unique actions and contributions have on the organization, retention is the glorious reward.

When we get really, really good at something, it becomes a lot more enjoyable to do. When our people become extremely proficient at their job, they feel a sense of pride. This pride makes them want to continue getting better and strengthens the organization’s entire culture. Our enjoyment and satisfaction felt when performing a task or activity tends to increase proportionally to our increase in proficiency. Simply put, the better we get at something, the more we enjoy doing it.

Employee satisfaction is a measurement of how happy the employee is, which is great; however, employee engagement takes things to a much higher level. Truly engaged employees and the organizations in which they belong can realize tremendous benefits and rewards from such engagement. An engaged employee puts forth discretionary effort for the organization. Much must go into making this possible, but at the foundation is an employee who feels important and recognizes the substantial impact they have on the organization.

Jobs People Want To Do

Our company provides landscape maintenance services half the year, snow and ice management the other half. In the spring and summer one of the most difficult positions for us to fill and retain has always been bed care workers. Apparently, in 2020, grown men and women have more appealing options than crawling around on their hands and knees pulling weeds.

In the wintertime, the most difficult positions to recruit and retain are sidewalk clearing crews. It seems like many individuals would rather do just about anything over being on-call around the clock to do brutally manual labor in some of the worst weather imaginable. Imagine that.

But what if we didn’t try to hire and retain people to crawl around on their hands and knees pulling weeds? What if we didn’t try to convince people to work in such tough conditions during the winter? What if we had jobs people actually wanted to do? Jobs that made people feel important, significant, and led to incredible engagement? What if we had real long-term career paths and helped employees navigate their way up them?

What if instead of trying to recruit people to pull weeds, we sold them on a real career path starting out as a Bed Care Technician? No specific experience necessary, because we’re going to spend your first few weeks training and getting the individual certified to apply pesticides safely, efficiently, and effectively. What if we explain to the candidate that a possible career path might take them from Bed Care Technician, to Horticulturist, to becoming a Certified Arborist; one who stands to earn a significant income while being a highly sought-after expert in their field. Or perhaps a different career path might lead the individual towards management, sales, finance, safety, training, or even Human Resources. What if wherever the individual wants to go, we commit to helping them achieve those exciting career goals through training, development and having real options available.

And in the meantime, instead of having to crawl around on their hands and knees pulling weeds, they can become well-educated in the use of pesticides, which provides for a much less labor intensive job, and allows the individual the opportunity to use their brain, feel important, feel significant, and make a noticeable difference to the entire organization. Their use in this more advanced capacity will prove more profitable.

What if instead of trying to recruit people to shovel sidewalks in brutal weather, we sell candidates on becoming a Sidewalk Safety Specialist? No specific experience necessary, because we are going to provide individuals comprehensive training on the science of using mechanical and chemical means to clear snow and ice. We can illustrate career paths that encompass year-round employment, promotion to Crew Leader, then to operating plow and salt trucks, Area Manager, Operations Manager, Account Manager, Branch Manager, and beyond. Whichever direction and however much motivation the individual has to advance, we commit to not only providing the path, but to help them achieve their goals.

There are few jobs more labor intensive and demanding than shoveling snow for hours. Fortunately, the snow and ice management industry has begun to modernize and provides for mechanical and chemical methods of what was once much more manual. Career candidates find using ride-on machines with blades or brooms a much more desirable job; a job they want to do. Giving them the opportunity to learn how both solid and liquid deicing and anti-icing techniques work, as well as educating them on the decision-making process of when to utilize each method, makes them feel important, significant, and part of something that actually makes an impactful difference to clients and the organization.

Our customers aren’t buying sidewalk clearing. They are buying liability mitigation, tenant attraction and retention, environmental preservation, and site safety. Make sure your Sidewalk Safety Specialists realize this, and the impact their work has on your clients, your organization, the environment, and pedestrian traffic. Their job is to get people in and out of the building safely in the presence of winter weather. Can you think of many jobs more significant?

A regular Snow Magazine contributor, Mike Voories is the Chief Operating Officer at Brilar, a Detroit headquartered landscape maintenance and snow and ice management firm with locations across the Midwest and Great Lakes.