If you’re in the greenhouse or nursery business, you don’t need us to tell you that labor issues are keeping growers up at night. Two recent surveys by leading greenhouse and nursery magazines voiced your concerns loud and clear: nearly four out of five growers surveyed named labor as the most significant problem facing your business this year.
Finding high-quality talent is essential, but many of you are most concerned about attracting young hires. With seasoned, knowledge-rich employees approaching retirement, it can seem like time for finding someone to soak up that knowledge is running out. But don’t lose faith—try a new perspective and a new approach instead. These tips for tapping into new talent may help:
1. Understand your target. No one is more tired of hearing about Millennials than Millennials themselves, but that doesn’t change the fact that this generation is a primary pool for new green industry talent. Now 23 to 38 years old, Millennials are getting married, buying their first homes and having children. Their generational priorities transcend the stereotypes that plagued this age group for the past several years.
A recent study by a leading human resources agency outlines five key things these potential employees want on the job: respectful treatment, fair compensation company-wide, two-way trust, job security, and opportunities to use and develop their skills. Before you wonder aloud about the compensation component, consider this: an AmericanHort HortScholar recently shared that, while money matters, making an impact matters even more.
2. Go outside your normal channels. When hiring runs dry, it’s time to branch out. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram reach young hires where they live. Post job openings on your personal and business pages, as well as those of industry organizations and local groups. Growers report success finding permanent and seasonal hires of all ages through the following avenues: local veterans’ groups, refugee resettlement organizations, botanical gardens, farmers markets, retiree organizations, and local food movements.
Paid job listing platforms have become hiring lifelines for many growers, especially for sourcing young and mid-career employees. Sites such as HireHorticulture.com focus specifically on hort industry jobs, but sites outside the industry have also yielded good results. Goodfoodjobs.com draws people interested in food-related industries, including greenhouse production. General business sites such as Indeed.com have helped many growers fill positions, especially for non-production roles.
3. Revisit your minimum qualifications. An “experienced only” stance may warrant review. Skilled growers and grads with four-year horticulture or floriculture degrees are limited. Think back. You probably have at least one member on your long-term staff that repaid your willingness to take a chance on their inexperience with years of loyalty and hard work—maybe you’re even that person who got a break when you started in the business years ago.
Reassess the value of applicants who are hungry to learn what your top-level staff can teach. Participate in student internship programs, and give students a chance to show their work ethic and desire to learn. Reconsider how computer or information technology (IT) skills could translate to sophisticated automated production systems. Do the same with experience in engineering, sustainable business practices, marketing, finance or sales. If needed, create a new position with a new title and pay grade.
4. Recruit creatively. Before you lay out the long hours and hot, dirty days that can come with the job, take a moment to remember what brought you into this business and what keeps you going. If you need a hand, consider hiring a freelance writer to help you put your passion to words. Then share your story about life-long growth and the never-dull work of helping to feed and beautify the world. While you’re at it, get creative with more tangible benefits, too.
For workers accustomed to flexible scheduling, especially young two-income parents, scheduling options are important. Simple (and often free) online scheduling software can eliminate your scheduling headaches and make flex-time easy, even during peak season. You can have the right number and the right people at work—and happy to be there. Emphasize opportunities to learn new innovations in technology and growing practices, and express your hopes for promoting from within.
5. Share your stance on environmental and social responsibility. If you can’t clearly articulate your position on sustainability, take time to refine it now. Research shows that sustainability programs are major considerations for Millennials and Generation Z (the age group that comes after them) when choosing employers. One survey of these age groups revealed that more than 70% said they’re more likely to work for a company with a strong “green” culture. In addition, nearly half said they were willing to accept less salary to do so.
You already have the advantage of being in the green industry, where technology and science meet beauty and sustenance. Interests in local food movements, global food crises, biodiversity and environmental stewardship mesh with much of our green industry culture. To be able to be part of a business that enriches the world and the local community is a significant draw for young talent. If you walk the walk, then talk the talk and tell them.
6. Focus on local…and start early. A rural location that lacks city glitz and glamour can be a challenge for growers seeking young hires. Overcome that hurdle by focusing on up-and-coming talent in your area schools, especially those students with ties to agriculture and the local family. From grade schools to community colleges, kids that have grown up in your area know the life there. For many, a lack of jobs is the reason they leave it. When you’re willing to invest time in them, you give them a reason to stay.
Donate plants and time to school gardens, and plant seeds in kids as well as soil. Get involved with farm-to-school programs that get kids onto farms and growers into classrooms. Give talks at 4-H and FFA, and make your local science teacher’s life easier by suggesting demonstrations your staff can provide, in class or at the farm. Visit school career days and open houses. Do farm tours that show kids how production works, but have your growers share their insights about careers in horticulture, too.
Here at ICL, we believe in the future of our industry and the potential of our nation’s youth. Yes, you still need to focus on your immediate hiring needs, but it’s never too late or too early to cultivate the future.