Turf Design Build Magazine Magazine - January, 2013


Connect. Attract. Retain.

Try these tested tips to draw top talent to your design/build business - and keep them.

Need to get that project done more efficiently? Equipment suppliers can give you plenty of options.

Tired of using the same plants in your design? Ask your local nursery, and they are sure to have the latest and greatest varieties available for purchase.

Frustrated trying to keep track of all of your vendors, clients and jobs? Software options exist that are tailored specifically to the green industry; they can give you all this and more.

Struggling to attract the right type of candidates to work at your company and keep them on staff once they have been there for a few years?

While this question comes up frequently, there is no easy answer. However, there are steps every company can take to attract and retain the most qualified and loyal design/build employees.

STEP #1: ATTRACT THE RIGHT CANDIDATES. We all want to hire the 'right' candidates, but how do we find out who those people are? How do we get them in the door? How do we interview them? How do we convince them our company is the place for them?

Do great work. Do award-winning work. The best talent will want to work on the best projects. The experienced candidates you want to attract to your company are already doing great work at their current employers - they are not going to leave to do work that is average. Graduates from respected programs - the young adults you want to hire - work on high-level, detailed projects in school; they most likely will want to continue to work on these types of projects if possible.

Know your audience. Veterans vs. newbies. Generation X vs. Generation Y. What's important to one generation of folks may not be to another. Be prepared to communicate and interact with candidates of all ages and experience. (See "Better Understand Millennials" on page 15.)

Target young candidates and stay in touch. A 30-minute interview with a college junior now could pay off big in five years when that same person is an experienced landscape professional and seeking a new position.

Get involved. Significant involvement with local and national organizations, such as PLANET (Professional Landcare Network) and ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects), is key. Candidates should recognize you from your involvement. Don't use these associations and organizations as a chance to recruit, but as a chance to show what is great about your company. Be positive, outgoing and welcoming. Leave a good impression - when those people you meet at these events are looking for jobs, you want them to seek your company first.

Embrace a feel-good culture. Everyone wants to feel good about the company for which they work. More than ever, candidates want to be part of teams that support community volunteerism and involvement. They want to be part of a company that places some attention on helping others who are in need.

Maintain office and equipment. Well-kept and updated facilities and trucks/equipment make an impression. No one wants to drive to work in a nice vehicle and then jump into a piece of junk to drive to the job site.

Provide benefits. Offer competitive compensation packages with good benefits, including health insurance.

Be flexible and create hybrid positions; cater to a candidate's skill set. Have someone skilled in design and estimating? Allow them to do both instead of pigeon-holing them into a design-only or estimating-only position. This applies to candidates, as well as existing employees.

Think big. For smaller companies, work to create a high level of professionalism, which will make you seem "big." Important pieces include: company handbook, job descriptions, career paths/ladders, etc.

Get social. Put the time in to create and maintain a positive and current social media presence. This will become even more important in the future.

Ensure you have competent front line "recruiters" and hiring managers. Don't lose a great candidate because of a poor interview with an unqualified or inexperienced interviewer.

Better Understand Millennials

We are all looking to add "bench strength" in our organizations. Over the next several years, most of us will be recruiting young people from Generation Y, also known as Millennials. You may even have children of your own who are part of this generation.

Millennials 101

Born: 1981 - 2002

Key events: These children of Boomers are the first generation born into a true high-tech society, and they are hardwired to the Internet. They are civic-minded, even more so than their parents, and have a value structure that includes lifelong learning and a work-life balance. More than any other generation in American history, they are wired for collaboration and for working in groups.

Key values: Work-life balance, confidence, social commitment, comfort with technology, networking, realism and being well-informed.

Critical technological change in their lives: The connection of the Internet to everything in their lives, with an added dose of the rapid pace of technological advances and innovation. They grew up, and remain, connected.

Millennials want to:

  • Feel like they fit in at the company and be a part of the "family."
  • Have passion for the job they will be performing each day.
  • Have the opportunity to be successful.
  • Have mentors available in-house (either assigned or sought out).
  • Know the owner(s) of the company (see owner(s) at least three or four times a month).
  • Have written career paths and performance reviews.

How can companies position themselves for success as they partner with these future leaders? It may seem a bit simple, but it's all about communication. With Millennials, recruiters and company managers need to have several "touches" that include a few, if not all, of the options below. In addition, you should be prepared to answer questions about the topics that are important to them, several of which are listed above. Keep in mind that recruiting is just like selling, but instead of selling a physical product, you are selling the company, the job and even yourself as their future manager.

Successful companies will connect with Millennials in the following ways:

Live Events

  • Face-to-face meetings (As in sales, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings.)
  • Visits to colleges and universities (career fairs, class presentations, interviews, etc.)
  • PLANET Student Career Days (career fair, student reception, event sponsorship)
  • Green Industry Conference (student/employer roundtable)

Indirect Technology

  • Facebook page
  • Web page
  • Job postings on your website, school websites, national job boards

Direct Technology

  • Email (Keep in mind that Millennials expect an almost immediate response. Wait more than one or two days to respond, and they will lose interest.)
  • Phone calls (Again, your responses must be quick.)


  • Faculty (While in school, students go to faculty for most everything, including advice. It's important that faculty advisors know your company and you.)

STEP #2: RETAIN GOOD EMPLOYEES. You've worked hard to find the right people and now you want to keep them. How do we keep the best employees from leaving or getting poached by another company?

Set goals and provide feedback. Owners and managers are responsible for setting goals, communicating expectations, conducting performance reviews and providing worthwhile feedback. Fall behind on these things, and people are going to leave.

Support certification. Encourage employees to gain industry-specific certifications and cover the cost for them.

Reward and recognize a job well done. You can provide rewards, such as gift cards, photos/comments on Facebook, an industry conference trip, etc.

Offer an internship program for college students. Assign an existing employee to mentor each intern. The experience helps employees remember why they got into the industry in the first place, and is a good way to fine-tune their training skills.

Offer competitive wages. Pay employees what they deserve.

Provide a comfortable work environment. Things like free coffee, personalization of office space, etc. can make a difference.

STEP #3: THINK CREATIVELY. Over the years, many progressive companies have truly amazed me with the unique ideas and programs they have used to bring highly qualified people into their organizations.

One event that has worked successfully for several companies is an in-house career/job fair held at their facility on a Saturday morning. The three- to four-hour timespan typically includes a light breakfast for attendees. Prospects have a chance to meet with company managers, fill out applications for employment and even interview for jobs. It's more convenient for many green industry workers, as they are usually unable to meet during regular business hours due to their work schedules. The cost to the company holding the event is minimal and typically includes wages for any employees working the fair, food, signage and advertising. It's feasible to put an event like this together for less than $750.

With renewed focus on hiring by many design/build companies, having the ability to effectively attract and retain good employees is again necessary. Many candidates who would have once preferred to work in design/build have instead taken positions in the maintenance world with the promise of stability and advancement. New candidates need to feel like the design/build segment of the industry is safe and that opportunities for growth will be available.


A design/build business can't recruit for all design/build positions the same way. Each position requires a slightly different approach and plan. From designers and architects to production/operations managers to sales and estimating, people have different skill sets, needs, goals and backgrounds. Placing an ad in one spot for 30 days is not going to find you great candidates for all of these positions.

Winter is often the best time to add talent to your team. From New Year's resolutions to find a better job, to a desire to start fresh with a new employer in the spring, candidates are searching for new jobs more at this time of year than any other. Focus on getting a complete and attainable recruiting plan together now and be ready to scoop up (and hold on to) some amazing people.

The author is the owner of Buck Consulting in Pasadena, Md. Before starting her own consulting business, Buck served for seven years as the recruiting director for Chapel Valley Landscape in Maryland, and from 2005 to 2010, served as chair of PLANET's Student Career Days. She currently works for Include Software in Annapolis, Md., and is the chair of PLANET's Industry Recruitment Committee. She can be reached at jennbuck@gmail.com or by calling 443-974-8293.