[Recruitment Issues] WANTED: A New Approach

Do you feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place? Yep, finding qualified employees remains a challenge, but less so in growth markets.

Hiring good employees remains a challenge for pest management professionals, but depending on your location, it may be easier — or harder — than anticipated.

Recruiting is not as much a problem in hot growth markets like Phoenix and greater Sacramento, where the steady flow of people to these areas is bringing vast talent. "People in our industry are relocating here" who have a lot of industry experience, says Truly Nolen District Manager Dan Galvan, Phoenix. In 2005, he easily filled manager and manager-trainee positions with experienced candidates.

Terminix Branch Manger Mike Escobar, Sacramento, agrees. "There’s really an abundance of qualified candidates" in recent years, he says.

Pest management professionals in other parts of the country don’t share these sentiments. "The No. 1 problem is finding good employees," says Craig Thomas, Craig Thomas Pest Control, Hyde Park, N.Y. "I hate to say it, but people don’t want to be known as an exterminator. I’m very proud of my industry, but we’re still stereotyped."

Tracy Hamlin, president, All-Ways Termite & Pest Control, Enterprise, Fla, has found job applicants plentiful, but not necessarily the right fit. "It’s not the lack of warm bodies, but quality people. It’s hard to find someone who really cares about what they’re doing, regardless of industry experience." Many people want to work, but simply aren’t able to meet company expectations, adds Hamlin, who has spent tens of thousands of dollars training employees who haven’t worked out.

With the Florida unemployment rate around three percent, recruitment is a challenge for everyone, says Massey Services Human Resources Manager Christine Mason-Brah, Maitland, Fla.

"People you want to hire already have a job," explains Middleton Lawn & Pest Control CEO Greg Clendenin, Orlando. "We have to make a job offer attractive enough for them to make a change."

Because it’s hard to draw new blood to the industry, recruitment must be an ongoing process, says Thomas. It can’t be a reaction to losing an employee. "Recruiting is always foremost in our minds," says Mason-Brah, who looks for applicants that fit the company’s culture and exhibit employer loyalty. Industry knowledge can be taught through Massey’s intensive training program, she adds.

HONING THE SEARCH. Placing help-wanted ads in major newspapers has been a traditional approach to reaching potential employees, with mixed results. In today’s world, employers are narrowing their search through other means.

Mason-Brah relies "less and less" on major daily paper classifieds, focusing instead on smaller weekly publications. Thomas employs newspaper, radio, career fairs and the Internet. Specialized online job sites can be particularly useful. Thomas has had good response from www.hudsonvalleyhelpwanted.com (a local New York career Web site), and Mason-Brah says she likes the results from www.careerbuilder.com.

Jeff Palko, staffing manager for Western Industries/Orkin, reaches out to customer-service focused individuals in other industries by passing out his business cards to waiters and hotel staff. Thomas targets the food service industry, noting employees’ customer service and sanitation skills. One of his ads asks, "Too hot in the kitchen?"

Help wanted signs and employee referrals also are effective. Thomas offers employees a $500 bonus for referring successful new hires; Massey employees can receive $1,000 over six months.

An evening open house career fair last spring was successful for Massey Services, with six team members hired for accounting, IT, customer care and manager trainee positions. Corporate and regional managers were on hand to interview applicants at the catered event. "We will do it again in the future," says Mason-Brah.

Middleton is targeting an often ignored segment of the labor pool: women. The company is working with a consulting firm to target and educate women about the industry and opportunities at Middleton.

KEEPING THOSE YOU HAVE. Holding onto good employees is more important than ever. "You’ve got to create an environment that makes them want to stay," says Clendenin. Terminix’s Escobar, a 20-year branch manager, says to retain employees, they "need to know what a good job looks like."

Regular training and clear job performance expectations set the stage. Communication is key, adds Thomas. "You can’t leave employees out in limbo. You have to assist and help them in any way they need it."

A fun work environment based on teamwork helps, Escobar adds, as is a clean, safe workplace.

"We try to make [our facilities] a home away from home," agrees Clendenin.

Benefits like health insurance, paid holidays and vacation, sick pay, 401(k)s, bonuses and overtime, and service vehicles that can be driven home are incentives that help keep employees on-board. Massey offers college scholarships, tuition reimbursement and "Pride and Professionalism" welcome packages sent direct to new employees’ homes. Middleton will negotiate tenure with prospective employees concerned about losing benefits like vacation and sick days.

Of course, a fair wage can’t be overlooked. All-Ways Termite & Pest Control’s Tracy Hamlin advocates paying technicians a salary, versus basing wages on commissions. "Not every technician’s a salesman, and vice versa." With advanced technology, equipment, route density, service strategy and pricing, pest management professionals can earn high productivity per employee, which translates into high compensation, says Clendenin.

Pay increases for most salaried workers averaged 3.5 percent in 2006 and will likely stay at this level through this year. Inflation rose about 3.1 percent in 2006 and will be 3.3 percent in 2007, says The Conference Board, a business research organization.

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT magazine. She can be reached at anagro@giemedia.com.

January 2007
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