There’s been a lot of discussion about the lack of available labor for service industry jobs, and the snow and ice management industry has not been immune. In fact, where it seems to hurt winter ops the most is the lack of bodies to fully staff shovel crews.
While admittedly not the most glamour job in snow and ice management, snow contractors have tried every trick in the book to hire and retain the people needed to handle sidewalks and areas that require more detailed work of a hand shovel rather than a plow blade.
Matt Scott, director of operations at Troy Clogg Landscape Associates in Wixom, Mich., says they have developed a workaround strategy to this problem that does essentially same job but with less people.
“Like any contractor working in the snow game, we’re always trying to find the most efficient pieces of equipment that we can,” he says. “So, we’ve invested in Snowrators and side-by-side (UTVs), tractors and things that take away the need for a lot of labor.
“And we’ve been able to add a significant amount of square footage in sidewalk clearing without having to add additional sidewalk people,” he adds.
This winter, TCLA manages around 250,000 square feet of pavement surface in downtown Detroit. To tackle this job, Scott says they’ve experienced some of the best results from two-person crews working out of a side-by-side UTV.
That 250,000 square feet of pavement is very centrally located, with buildings very close to one another, Scott says. So, TCLA runs two-man crews – driver and assistant -- in a side-by-side UTV like a Kuboto or a John Deere Gator with a v-plow on the front, a v-hopper salt spreader in the back and a snow shovel.
“They pull up to a site and the assistant jumps out and he starts doing the pieces that need to be done with a snow shovel,” he says. “The driver in the side-by-side starts plowing and salting the sidewalk. They finish, the assistant jumps back in and they drive down a half a block to the next building and start all over again.”
Another version of TCLA’s two-person outfit involves a box truck equipped with a ramp and a Snowrator. With a dozen or so Snowrators, Scott says they’ve been able to eliminate three- and four-man crews with snowblowers and shovels in lieu of two-man crews that travel from site to site in a box truck with a Snowrator in the back.
This two-person combination operating out of a side-by-side UTV, or a box truck with a Snowrator, has allowed TCLA to reduce the labor force typically required to do that same job by 75 percent, Scott says. “We’ve added a half-million square feet in total sidewalks (for Winter 2018-19) and we’re running less sidewalk labor than we were last year.”
And Scott suspects this method has helped with attracting and retaining labor, as well. “Now, you’re not just a guy running out there with a shovel for a 12-hour shift,” he says. “I think it’s more appealing to be part of a two-man crew.”
While these machines allow for a higher production rate with less people, Scott says the industry, at least in the near term, still faces a fundamental problem – a shortage of available labor. “None of this matters if you can’t get people,” he says. “If you want to continue to grow in the snow business you’re going to have to find a way to make the sidewalk clearing process – even plowing -- as efficient as possible.”
Mike Zawacki is Snow Magazine editor and the ASCA's curriculum coordinator. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.