April 1, 2019
Warren PattersonMy comments last issue about the way our profession is perceived by those outside our community garnered a fair bit of feedback from some Landscape Ontario members. One particular comment I received, although very sarcastic, also had a lot of truth to it:
  • Work in the greenhouse environment where machines set your pace, and you get to do mind-numbing, back searing work in stifling heat, until a bell goes off to give you a 10 minute break.
  • Work long and hard during the beautiful time of year and get laid-off as soon as the snow flies, the spring crop is finished in the greenhouse, or traffic slows in the garden centre.
  • Get paid minimum wage to start, and when you hit your peak 20 -30 years down the road, make less than the average starting wage in manufacturing or trade employment.
The hard truth is that our profession works hard. Our work is seasonal and earnings are not on par with other similar professions.

As an industry, we are feeling the impact of these realities as we all scramble to find staff to meet the demand for our services. Fortunately, with members from across the province recently engaged in our update of the association’s Strategic Plan, many discussions have already taken place on how to begin to fix our largest, most limiting issue: staffing.

We are having trouble attracting and keeping new people in our profession. The strategies we are identifying and the groundwork being laid will start to provide the framework to attract and retain more staff.

The harsh reality of low wages and the seasonal nature of our work is something that we, as employers need to start to discuss and fix. Recently, I read some very interesting comments on Facebook via LO’s private Peer to Peer Network forum (if you have not joined Peer to Peer you should). One of the members simply asked what rates others were charging clients for labour. As you can imagine, the rates were all over the map. One response correctly pointed out that if you pay your staff low, your rates would be low as well. Bingo!

One way to fire up a conversation with the owner of a landscape company is to point out our charge out rates on average are much lower than other trades — even though we pull up to the curb with at least $100,000 worth equipment. Maybe the focus of our discussions should start with what our staff should rightly be paid.

To do this, we will need to first look at other trades. They too, face the same issue. They need more people to keep up with the demand for their services. They are our competition. They are not seasonal. Thus is the challenge we face. Solutions will not happen overnight, we need to start the discussions and take up the challenge as a whole. As Tim Kearney once said, “We need to connect the dots.”
Warren Patterson
LO President