May 15, 2018

By Warren Patterson
LO President
Warren Patterson

The new generation is at least two generations removed from the farm. The farm is where hard work gets done every single day. If you were born in the ’60s or earlier, you either grew up on a farm or had a relative or family friend who did. You saw the hard work that needed to get done and everyone pitched in when needed.

Today’s generation doesn’t do manual labour, let alone are able to describe what it means. So how attracted will they be to an industry that has job postings for labourers as the entry level position?
To solve this problem, we need to market our industry differently and begin to work differently.

I have talked to many contractors in the last three months. Most have a problem finding labour. The ones that seem to be able to fill their benches have one thing in common: they are removing the manual labour aspect of their work as much as possible.

These businesses are investing heavily in equipment to attract operators rather than labourers. Not to say that equipment can do all of the work. When the majority of sidewalk shovelling is done by a stand-up snowplow, the new generation looks at that type of work differently. They have already spent countless hours driving things in video games, so it is a natural extension of their childhood.
Able to better manage productivity with equipment and depending on the type of equipment, quality becomes more consistent and controllable. Using more equipment also provides more job opportunities to those who can’t physically endure a full day’s worth of manual labour.

Last week, I visited LO member, Mark Humphries, owner of Direct Landscape Supply and Humphries Landscape Services in Durham. Mark is a forward thinker. He is actively promoting robotic mowers to his lawn services clients. I was surprised to learn the payback time on this technology is very short. The outcome for the customer is the same — a nicely manicured lawn, but the business benefits and opportunities are far greater.

Robotic mowers create both upfront and recurring revenue that is scalable. But more importantly, the skills and interest required of staff are totally different from current lawn care technicians. This new employment opportunity is part technician, part technologist, part robotics engineer. Think of the job posting and how many young people would be interested in this: “Robotic Technologist.”

Today’s generation is not going to change for us. We need to change for them. We need to look at everything we do in our businesses and move to more technology, robotics and equipment if we are to have sustainable, growing businesses.

Oh, and getting back to the farm…. my brother-in-law owns a dairy farm and all his cows are milked by robots. It seems times have changed, even on the farm.
Warren Patterson may be reached at