Labor Day celebrates the achievements and contributions of the American laborer in making the United States into such a great country. But this year, many in our industry and in other service-oriented industries are in dire need of solutions. As owners, managers, and industry leaders we must reassess out relationships with labor to ensure we can attract, retain and develop the talent we need for this winter and winters down the road.
Therefore, I’m advocating raising your prices and paying your workers more.
Wait, was that a pin dropping? Please bear with me for a moment and I will explain the logic to this position.
At some point in our recent history, the professional snow and ice management industry joined the collective race to the bottom when it came to labor. This didn’t begin because we failed to hire good people. Rather, we can trace its roots back to price cutting and accepting a low-bid approach when awarding winter service contracts. Over time, the average contractor’s overall expenses increase. With labor being a significant -- if not the largest -- expense line item, it gets unfairly scrutinized. You see, decades ago the landscape and snow industry were compensating well above minim wage, nearly double on average, for entry-level positions. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same today.
And as a result, labor is a commodity many professional snow and ice managers struggle with today. There is a severe shortage of people who want to work, and the ongoing global pandemic and overly generous stimulus programs have done nothing but create logistical black holes for service-based companies – from the baristas who pour your morning coffee to the shovelers who will be clearing snow from walkways this winter.
As an essential industry we must get back to the point where we draw from the labor pool on equal footing with other service industries. This starts with you and your sales teams having serious conversations with your customers. Now is a prime opportunity because they, too, are not immune to hiring deficiencies. They understand the struggle and sympathize with the need to pay more for employees who will not only commit to jobs but will actually show up on the first day.
While a labor-influenced price increase assures you have ample resources to service their properties correctly, settling for a low-bid contractor in a tight labor market is a risky endeavor for obvious reasons. A low-bid snow contractor competing at the lowest price levels available will assuredly provide the lowest levels of snow and ice management services. And if a client finds a price point more attractive than the level of professional service, then this is likely someone you don’t want to do business with, anyways.
Good clients will understand because they are doing the same thing with their pricing structures, and they recognize the risk inherent with the low-bid provider in a tight labor market. As the old saying goes: You get what you pay for.
Now, take a hard look it at your snow and ice management ops. Have you built a culture that people want to work for? I am not talking about the occasional team lunch or barbecue. I am talking about creating a place where nearly of your team looks forward to coming to everyday. Where they feel appreciated and empowered. Where they see opportunities and a future for themselves. It’s the kind of culture where your employees are recruiting for you.
Assess the gaps and determine how to fix those holes in your culture. Often, it is a manager or crew member being a blocker or bringing everyone else down. There are plenty of resource available to assist in creating company culture that is desirable to others. Seek out those resources and get to work.
In the end, snow and ice management is an industry where labor is our most valuable resource. If you think about it, a skilled workforce is just as important as plow trucks and rock salt. And if we learn anything from this crisis, it’s that we must focus on the human component as closely as we do the other areas of our business.
After all, there is an entire holiday celebrating it.
Happy Labor Day everyone!
Kevin Gilbride is the Executive Director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association.