Not enough hands on deck - How the employee shortage has affected us
Thursday, March 9, 2023
Every where you go whether here or abroad, there is a shortage of workers.
This is a hot topic of discussion around many kitchen tables, and there is often heated discussion when attempting to reason the 'why'.
Some people feel that this is due to Covid-19 directly, but personally I feel the events around Covid were merely a catalyst for a trend that was already on the horizon. The regulations that came into place with Covid introduced a new way of survival for the human race, one that involved not leaving home and potentially supplemental support from the government. It also encouraged our workforce to work from home, and although restrictions have fallen away, this had become a much more comfortable environment for working; who can blame them for not wanting to come back to the office? If I could work from home, I know I would be sorely tempted - but I suspect the menagerie at home would distract me too much if I did it too often!
Some feel that the shortage of employees is due to the rising cost of living and a stagnant pay scale. Factors such as housing/rental prices, grocery costs, fuel and child care certainly play into this.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the lack of employees, there is no argument that it has hobbled the service industry - including our own landscape services.
Now, I am proud to say that the wages we are paid here are (in my opinion, having worked in many different sectors from veterinary, to retail, to agriculture) phenomenal. Our bosses are also reasonable people who are approachable and genuinely want their employees to do well and be happy. [Note that at the time of writing this I am alone in the office and am under no coerceion, these are just my personal opinions] The work we do can be arduous and tiring, wear hard on clothes and muscles/skin, but staff are encouraged to take their time, rest as much as needed, and reach out if they require help or guidance. On hot Summer days, we call it quits if the temperature is too high. In the Winter, trucks can be warmed and rest breaks to a nearby Tim Hortons for a hot drink are expected. There is no penalty for being smart about your health and safety. If you need help ensuring you have appropriate clothing for the task at hand, you are encouraged to ask - we got you.
However, there is no way about it: we lack employees.
This Winter in particular we have been struck by the shortage of employees. We have not had sufficient team members to satisfactorily (especially not to Jody's expectation levels) meet our responsibilities for snow removal. We have to prioritize our property lists, and sadly we just have not had enough people to be able to complete our total lists in an ideal time frame.
This is frustrating on SO many levels. We hate disappointing our customers. We hate not completing the tasks how we plan to. We hate wanting to go out and do more work, but our bodies tell us we just can't - exhaustion is a heavy handed guide. This is not how we like our business to run.
But, it seems to take a very specific type of person to choose this field as a career. Love of the outdoors is a must. Hard work ethic. Flexibilty is a bonus, as sometimes we work odd hours or long/short days. You must also be ready to jump in to any level of task without fear of damaging your ego - we are a team, and sometimes your team members need you help with a task you don't normally do. We are lucky that the core group we have adhere to these traits; now, if only we could find more.
Jody is always looking to hire more talent, and our door is always open to those who think this may be something they could do.
With a snow event on the horizon for tomorrow, we will be putting all hadns on deck - it's just a shame that the deck is so large and the number of crew members too small. Ah well, as the US Navy Seals say, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”.
When I started working for Jody and Celia at Jody's Lawn Care, it was already more than just a 'job'. I was offered this opportunity as a friend who had linked them up with their Pyrenees dogs, and through circumstance change found myself looking for a job located closer to my newly purchased home. Being trusted to hop into their team was an honour.
When I started I could tell that this company was 'Jody' in more than just name. Not only had he started it, but he was also active in the field with his crews, in the office, and out back working on the machines and tools. More than that, he knew his customers.
I didn't realize how Jody having grown up in Port Dover would result in such a broad expanse of people knowing him and his company; and on the flip side, of us knowing his customers.
Working on site in Port Dover or Simcoe I now see a lot of familiar faces, having met customers while working on their properties or when they stop into the office. There is also the '6 degrees of Jody' that occurs in events such as my taking my antique chair to be reupholstered in Waterford, and upon seeing me in my JLC sweater (worn by accident, but oh so warm) asked "You work for Jody's?". With my affirmation, she went on to explain how she was best friend's with Jody's aunt, had been at his parent's wedding, and known him forever.
Then there are the customers who call in, recalling when Jody used to live next door to them as a child, or first started his business on his bicycle. Jody himself can be an instigator of this connection when you talk about a particular business owner or person you met on the street, and he pipes up "Oh I know , we used to...".
He also knows a lot hockey players - who would have thought Dover and Simcoe could be the hidden source of the NHL? Even through his children he knows many of the up and coming players!
The range of those who know Jody and Celia can only increase exponentially due to their jet setting ways! Jody and Celia work hard, and the one way they reward themselves (and rightly so) is with trips -- whether it is abroad or to the other side of the country to visit friends and family. People can't help but strike up conversations with this duo, as they have such a varied Rolodex of conversation topics and experiences! Celia certainly has gained my habit of striking up conversations with those who are walking their livestock guardian-breed dogs; a sure-fire way to make new acquaintances.
The six degrees of Jody is a unwritten benefit of being in his employ; and a reassurance that his company is meant to be around for a long time. The reliability he has created is inspiring. I look forward to meeting more people who know him, and who knows, maybe I will be someone that surprises a stranger by saying "Oh I know Jody...". It is amusing to remember that although this is a huge world, small town connections still permeate and the "six degrees of separation" theory still applies. JLC is a great example, and I am proud to be a part of it.
For some reason, this week is striking us as COLD. Although the temperatures are not registering as abnormally cold, the damp grey air seemed to sink into our bones. Walking Jody's dog Wolf (the office mascot most days) to the mailbox to mail some documents, caused teeth to chatter and goosebumps to rise.
This led to checking the heat in the office, a hot cup of tea, and sweet-talking to the little electric heater under the desk.
The majority of the day was worked through without much further complaint, mind the warmth from further cups of tea and a heated microwave lunch were gratefully cradled in cold hands.
The afternoon is now wrapping to a close and on its heels are thoughts of further warmth to be garnered from dinner, blankets, hot drinks and perhaps movie watching. A Google search for Winter recipes leads to an American chef known as "The Pioneer Woman" and her 45 Easy Winter Dinner Ideas. This gave an almost overwhelming list of options, but the lack of desire to go shopping led to further searching. A general thought to stay Canadian led to a reliable source: Canadian Living. They offered up 29 Recipes to Get You Excited About Cold Winter Evenings. We also dug up the website of a favoured chef, Michael Smith - sadly, his site does not specify Winter meals, but it is still a good resource. Finally, our search yielded a smaller site and publication, Eat Magazine and their Winter Recipes From Local Chefs.
If only our office had a proper kitchen - maybe we would start a quest similar to the movie Julie and Julia, and cook our way through our found recipes. Instead, we can only hope our energy lasts until we get home and we can make a proper Wintery dinner.
This has to be one of the strangest Winters that we have experienced. We are seeing Facebook memories of snow on the ground, our bodies are twitching with muscle memory of shoveling and cold -- and yet, we are plugging away at Fall clean ups and counting rain days.
Mind you, we are not complaining, it is just a bit confusing to our systems.
We have our snow client lists complete (and full), our trucks are oil sprayed, the plows repaired, and the shop bay has a mountain of salt at the ready! However, it is nice to be able to sleep through the night and not wake every couple hours to check the forecast and perhaps jump into our snow pants to madly clear a sudden squall.
But time is flying! We cannot believe that the count down to Christmas and Hannukah is on, deadlines for year end are approaching, and... we certainly feel unprepared. With all our concern over the weather and being ready to clear roads, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks, it feels as though we have forgotten about the life outside of work. As we have previously mentioned, Jody himself is very focused on his customers and meeting their needs - he is just lucky to have his wonderful wife Celia to help provide a bit of balance and reminder of his other joys (including their two children). Thanks to Celia, Jody is not as behind on being prepared for the holiday season as he perhaps would be if left to his own devices. Phew.
Not sure what we can say about the rest of our staff...
Katie certainly feels unprepared. There is a test for her pesticide license on the horizon and she is still madly trying to get through the second manual - the sand is running out of the hourglass! All the holidays can wait until after this is off the docket.
Donna seems fairly ready, plans have been made with her family members. The schedules for the kids are known and accounted for. She's got this.
Chris is looking forward to the time with his adorable daughter, and already has plans for spoiling her rotten - he is prepped.
Jeremy is super chill about the whole affair. He knows the routine, knows where he has to be when, has already started prepping for the family shindigs. Surprisingly (sorry Jerm) he seems to be on target.
We know the rest of the team are looking forward to a break from the madness. Time to recoup, recharge, and get ready for the next season. We are grateful to our customers who rely on us to look after their properties - and we know they understand how much energy goes into our services.
So for now... we stand at the ready and wait. See what Winter throws at us next.
We are excited this week! We are into the last stretch for our Fiesta applications - getting them done before the leaves fall. This heavy iron supplement spray is a safe herbicide that attacks primarily broadleaf weeds (such as dandelions, plantains, and clover). As we discussed in previous blog posts, this all falls under the cosmetic lawn care practices - although these weeds are harmless, they are undersirable in most communities. The crab grass seems to be subsiding, but clover is definitely taking up the slack. Thankfully, Fiesta seems to hit clover decently, so we should be able to beat it back. (Katie will have it noted that she is a fan of clover, especially as part of a pasture mix and its natural Nitrogen fixating properties for soil health)
Our teams have also been busy applying granular fertilizer; again, our goal is to get it all done before the leaves fall! The early frost was a surprise for us, and we are glad we have gotten our seeding done - seed needs warmth to germinate. The cooler temperatures, although refreshing, warn us again that the clock is ticking until the snow comes.
The employment shortage has had an impact on us, and we are still hoping to hire some crew members for the snow season - those that are willing and able to shovel snow would be very welcome to work for the Winter. We will be pulling all our team members that we can into the cold this coming Winter, and unfortunately not all of it is done from the warmth of the interior of a snow plow -- but still! Needs must! We know the demand for snow removal is huge, with a lot of other companies being unable to survive Covid impacts, so we will do what it takes to provide services for our customers. We are not able to take on new residential customers however, as we must reserve ourselves for current clientele. We apologize for this disappointment, but hope everyone understands we must be loyal and not overstretch ourselves.
Although lawn care seems a fairly straight forward profession, there are more hiccups than one first realizes.
The first step to establishing this as a viable income is to determine how you will price yourself. We at JLC have discovered that there is no real way to estimate a price for the work to be done other than going to see the property and assess the amount of work/time/manpower necessary to complete it. Other companies may be comfortable charging an hourly rate, but for us that can lead to expensive, time consuming, jobs that may have been better planned otherwise. As such, all our estimates are custom built based on the property and customer wishes.
Beyond developing your own pricing system to ensure that you are compensated fairly for your work, and able to pay the employees who work for you, there are rules and regulations to adhere to.
Ontario has a very strict stand on the use of pesticides. The use of pesticides on residential/commercial properties for "cosmetic" use is a controlled and limited purpose. Since 2009 Ontario's Cosmetic Pesticide Ban (CPB) has been in place. The objective of the CPB is to reduce public exposure to pesticides, and applies to cosmetic use of pesticides including use on lawns, gardens, school yards etc. In our sector (landscape) the only exceptions to this ban are "the control of plants that are poisonous to humans by touch including: – Poison ivy – Poison sumac – Giant hogweed – Wild parsnip" -- but even in these cases pesticides containing only Class 10 pesticide ingredients [1. GLUFOSINATE AMMONIUM 2. GLYPHOSATE 3. ISOPROPYLAMINE (SALT OF) PRESENT AS GLYPHOSATE 4. GLYPHOSATE, PRESENT AS DIMETHYLAMINE SALT] may be used. We do not typically engage in the control of these plants, as they and the products used to control them, present a health and safety risk to our employees.
Products such as Round-Up and Par III are banned for cosmetic use due to the potential affects of their ingredients. Although these are very successful products, they fall under the CFB and are not to be used for cosmetic purposes. These products stand out from more natural herbicides due to their strong chemical smell; they are corrosive to eyes and should not he touched or inhaled, and are toxic to aquatic invertbrates, and should never be used on residential properties.
Our spray team members have completed their pesticide certification to ensure that all products we use are used properly and safely. We are only able to use natural-based herbicides such as Fiesta to control weeds.
This leads us to ensuring that all safety measures are followed, including wearing appropriate high-vis wear and PPE, long pants, and (depending on the task) safety footwear. Safety training in first aid and WHIMIS are provided for our employees as well. We have an extensive safety policy manual that is reviewed annually to ensure our employees are familiar with it and it is up-to-date. These can be boring tasks, but are imperative to protecting the welfare of our staff.
When our company first started, with Jody and his single lawn mower, a lot of these concerns were not on the radar. However, as our company has grown, not just in clientele but with employees and a new variety of services, our policies have grown to encompass this new sphere of service with safety and reliability.
All of the above are the initial framework for a proper lawncare company - but anyone interested in this line of work need to know there is endless learning, and it is a service industry - your demeanour with clients is pivotal. The biggest "do" of lawncare is to treat your employees and clients with respect, honesty, and kindness.
Although we at Jody's Lawn Care live and breathe lawns and property maintencance, it is just a job.
In our off time our employees do lots of different activities that are a far cry from lawn maintenance.
Take Jeremy, our team manager, for example. He is an avid guitar player and vocalist for his band Lower Ground. He also enjoys camping with his family in Algonquin park.
Carrie, our horticultural specialist, loves to bowl!
Dave, one of our long-time cutting crew, enjoys riding his motorcycle.
Gabe, another one of our cutting crew, plays bass guitar in a band as well.
Kyle, an ex-farm boy turned grass cutter for us, loves to be out on the lake fishing.
Katie, our receptionist, is crazy about her dogs and often spends weekends at conformation dog shows and other dog events. She also pampers her horse and occasionally has time for a trail ride.
Celia too loves dog events, taking the Kirk Great Pyrenees to not only conformation events, but lure courses and sprinter trials as well! She and Jody are also big fans of their hottub.
Jody is the one team member we have the hardest time dragging away from the properties we look after. He is dedicated to maintaining the JLC level of expectation, and often works evenings and weekends to ensure that we meet this goal. On rainy days he grumbles about not being able to complete the jobs he had planned, on hot days he is out working until he nearly drops, and it is a rare, rare occurence that he does NOT do some lawn care for our clients on the weekend.
The JLC team is determined to keep you and your lawns happy, but we do some other tasks to keep us happy too - except Jody. I sometime think his happiness is in direct correlation with the health of your lawn and our customer satisfaction.
Although the Fall Equinox does not occur until September 22 this year, we can already feel the change in season. The nights are cool (we were able to see our breath on the weekend!), the bees are drunkenly buzzing around, and for those of us with long-coated pets – the fur is flying!
Although our general growing season is coming to an end, there are still things you can be doing in the garden and on your property.
Those with gourds are already beginning to reap the fruits of their labour – roadside stands have pie pumpkins, decorative gourds, and squashes available. Be sure to shop local and enjoy the Fall delicacies.
For those with a more flowery thumb, Fall Mums are available in your local garden centres. These large bloomed perennials are a great investment for Fall décor, surviving for years if well Wintered and cared for. Be sure to dead head them to extend their blooming period.
Your lawn would appreciate a little prepping for next year too. We are currently applying grub suppression nematodes to help break the cycle of Japanese Beetles. If you want to learn more about grubs and how to tell if they are a concern for your lawn, check out this website White Grub life cycle and how to control them – wonderful, thorough information. Our nematode product is a living bacterium, and as such requires water to stay alive. We try to ensure that our customers are aware of their applications and keep their properties moist for the following 7-10 days give these little creatures the best chance. Remembering to water the lawn can be tricky, but we know the investment pans out.
You can also take advantage of the cooler temperatures to clean up garden beds, raking out dead plants/stalks and putting them into your composter to start great soil for next year. Rucking up the soil also allows more air and moisture to get in, encouraging the mineral and nutrient content for root systems.
Soon we will begin planning our overseeding program, utilizing the more dormant period to start seed and reduce area availability for weeds in the coming year. Although the growth of grass is slower in the Fall, we can utilize the soil availability due to the thinning grass for the seeds to get a good start.
‘The still-warm earth and natural rainfall that tends to arrive in September will help to nourish and stimulate the newly sown seed, as well as reduce the time you’ll have to spend watering or trying to beat any hosepipe bans,’ says Guy Jenkins consumer manager for Johnson’s Lawn Seed. ‘By waiting until later in the year you will avoid the summer droughts which spell death for tender young seedlings that haven’t managed to reach deeper groundwater.’
Contact us now if you want to incorporate overseeding into your lawn’s Fall plans!