Here’s some news we can all appreciate: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that pest management is one of the fastest-growing job categories of this decade, with the number of jobs expected to rise 26 percent from 2010 to 2020.
Why do we need more workers? Because business continues to press upward. Think about all of the forces contributing to our industry’s forward momentum:
- Homeowners are coming back! As their discretionary income inches upward, consumers who had turned to do-it-yourself pest treatments in the interest of saving money over the past several years now may return as pest management customers. We all know that DIY treatments can’t compare to professional treatments; these customers are ready to come back, and now many have the financial means to do so.
- Consumers are spending more time in restaurants, hotels, theaters and other venues — some of pest management’s best commercial customers. Again, rising discretionary income is the driver behind this demand. Venue owners and operators are satisfying their growing clientele by investing more in their properties.
- Americans are becoming increasingly concerned with health issues and the environment — another blow to DIY treatments. Rather than buying and applying chemicals on their own, consumers want to be educated about greener treatments. They recognize and appreciate the expertise your professional technicians bring to the table.
- As the housing market springs back, with momentum building in both sales and new construction, demand for pretreatment and inspection work is on the rise.
- Bed bugs, stink bugs and other pests are proliferating. Pest populations are on the rise across the country, with a variety of factors contributing to conducive conditions. Weather certainly plays a role, and if warming trends continue as they have over the past four decades (since 1970, the speed of warming over the lower 48 states has more than tripled, according to Climate Central), we can look for continuing escalation in pest counts. Increasing commerce and travel are fueling pest propagation as well, as tramp species continue to enter the country in unprecedented numbers.
Have you felt an uptick in demand at your business yet? Have you found yourself in the position of needing new employees? If not, be patient. It’s coming. And the insights that follow will help prepare you to staff up the right way, recruiting solid candidates who will help your business continue to thrive.
When unemployment was at its peak, pest management companies across the country experienced an interesting phenomenon: People were applying for jobs in droves, regardless of whether they had any of the requisite skills. With the economy shifting back toward “normal,” the quantity of applicants is no longer an issue, but quality continues to be, PMPs say. We asked human resources leaders from three companies — Rentokil North America, Allgood Pest Solutions and Lloyd Pest Control — how they approach recruitment to land outstanding technicians.
WHO’S HIRING? Corporate structure determines who is responsible for hiring. If you’re a large company with numerous offices, you might have a hiring manager for each branch with overall supervision by a corporate human resources (HR) director. Or maybe you entrust hiring to the individuals in charge of operating the branches or to the leaders of each team. No matter your structure, what’s critical is that the person(s) in charge of hiring is (are) equipped for the task.
At Rentokil North America, where HR Director Vicki Fisher provides varying levels of recruitment support depending on the size, location and capabilities of each office, hiring training is part of the standard leadership training program. Managers go through a half-day module dedicated to selection and hiring, covering tips like how to identify the strongest candidates, develop telling questions, treat candidates during the interview and hiring process, and address necessary legal issues.
“We focus on recognizing the skills, abilities and characteristics needed for certain roles,” explains Fisher. “We brainstorm what A, B and C players look like — an A player will always demonstrate positive communication skills, deliver excellent customer service and be a team player, for example.”
Fisher shares that, since introducing an organized hiring process through this training module about a decade ago, Rentokil has seen a significant increase in employee retention. “Our turnover is consistently in the 17-18 percent range, where before it was well above 20 percent,” she says.
Allgood Pest Solutions, named one of the Best Places to Work (#8) in Georgia by Georgia Trends magazine in 2012, instituted a guided interview process three years ago when Kendra Rudd joined as HR manager from uniform company Cintas. “We had great success using this interview process at Cintas, and now it’s working at Allgood,” she says. “All supervisors are trained in the process, as we help them build strong interview skills. We also require three interviews of every hire because we believe that’s what it takes to establish that the candidate exhibits the level of customer service and sales skills, career stability and cultural fit we’re seeking.”
The Best Prospects?
Many PMPs and hiring managers will tell you they prefer technician candidates with service experience but no pest management experience. Why? Those who have been with other pest management companies have learned procedures and habits that aren’t likely to play in their new culture. It takes longer to “untrain” and retrain them than it does to just train them your way from the start.
On the other hand, candidates who have been successful in other service-oriented industries — landscaping, pool cleaning, HVAC installation and maintenance, etc. — tend to have the core qualities pest management companies are seeking. “We look for detail-oriented candidates who offer exceptional customer service. If they have been successful in other service roles, then they are likely to represent our company in the best light as well,” explains Debbie Taranto, HR manager at Lloyd Pest Control, which operates eight offices in Southern California. “We also have had great experiences hiring recent high-school graduates and military personnel.”
How Do You Reach Them?
Logic might dictate that the best way to reach young candidates is through social media. But while they do use social media on a limited basis, Rudd and Taranto say there’s no match for word-of-mouth referrals. Says Taranto, “When your employees are saying to friends of theirs, ‘This is a great place to work; you should apply,’ you’re likely to get solid candidates. We offer referral bonuses and remind employees to make sure that the people they approach are individuals with whom they’d like to work side-by-side.”
Rudd points out that members of the community are good referral sources as well. “We have built relationships with the local chambers of commerce and community colleges,” she says. “We become actively involved in community events, which gives people a comfort level with Allgood and helps them learn more about the work we do.”
Rentokil uses its websites to advertise open positions and encourage employees to make referrals. The company also takes advantage of local posting boards. “For some positions, we use CareerBuilder, and we post almost all positions on local job sites and diversity sites. We strive to attract the largest pool of qualified applicants possible,” says Fisher.
Companies that take the long view of recruitment invest time in ongoing communication and education, and recruit on an ongoing basis. Taranto addresses the education point: “If we’re going to recruit the kind of professionals we want into pest management, we need to enlighten the public about the benefits of working in this field. We conduct seminars at job fairs throughout San Diego, and people are typically surprised to hear that this is a profession — a career choice — not just a job.”
Rudd adds, “We consider recruitment a continuous process and encourage our supervisors and managers to watch for great service people. If you bump into an HVAC technician, a lawn care specialist or a waiter who provides outstanding service, tell him to consider us if he ever decides to make a career change.”
Who Gets the Offer?
Evaluating candidates is the most critical, and perhaps most difficult, component in the hiring process. At Lloyd Pest Control, the evaluation process begins early.
“We don’t offer online application for technician positions,” says Taranto. “Applicants need to visit one of our offices to apply. Essentially the interview begins the moment they walk through our door; we want to see how they present themselves from that first communication. This cuts the number of resumes we need to review and accelerates the process of getting to know promising candidates.”
Of course, every company conducts standard screenings. Driving record OK? Criminal background check clean? No drugs or alcohol? When employees are going to be visiting your customers’ homes, their records must be sterling.
The questions you ask candidates will help their personality traits emerge. Typically, these questions are asked in a face-to-face interview, but Allgood also asks candidates to complete a “communication profile,” which offers further insight. Are they introverted? Extroverted? What type of work environment is ideal for them — one with more structure or more freedom? The results of the profile are discussed with the candidate to ensure both employer and potential employee understand expectations.
However you arrive at your conclusions about a candidate, you are likely looking for the same characteristics other pest management companies seek. “Ideal candidates are empathetic. They get satisfaction from helping others,” says Fisher. “They also demonstrate a spark of curiosity. If they don’t care how or why mice keep getting in, then they aren’t likely to find the source of the pest issue. We want self-motivated people who are driven to resolve customer issues.
“You can’t just take the first person who walks through the door. We take great pride in having technicians who love what they do and make Rentokil their career. We are in the people business, after all.”