November 1, 2021

By Dave Wright, LO President

As my two-year term comes to an end, I am looking back at what we have accomplished as an association, and the issues that persist and continue to challenge us year-after-year.  

Next to insurance, labour has been a hot topic for many years. In the spring of 2020, we went from not working, to working full out and the demand for workers just continues to grow.  

I think we are finally gaining some traction on determining the real problems with labour. The GROW program has taken off and I hope we can keep the momentum going because I can see its effectiveness as a training ground for moving workers into our industry. 

However, it doesn’t address the issue that every sector is scrambling for workers, and we’re in stiff competition. When we look around, we see just about every business, in every industry, with “help wanted” signs. Economists and analysts across the continent are struggling to get to the bottom of the underlying issues. 

The bottom line for our industry is that we can’t meet our labour needs with just our domestic supply of workers. We need immigration. We need to be inclusive so that all prospective workers see themselves in our jobs and feel like they belong. Unfortunately, the pandemic has slowed immigration and the government is not meeting its targets. 

We need temporary foreign workers to fill the gap and we need to let the government know we do not have balanced employment numbers in our industry. We recently learned the federal government’s labour market studies show there are as many out of work in the landscape industry as there are jobs. There is something wrong with this picture. 

As small business owners we must create the best jobs for our future employees — jobs that make their lives better. We need to make jobs in this sector more attractive than any other and we can do that by offering better wages, benefits and room to advance. Our workers should know that in this industry, you can work until retirement and along the way, there’ll be opportunities for professional development and mentorship. We need to create careers for our employees and move away from the impression that we only offer summer jobs. As an association, we need to speak this language of opportunity and do it better than our peers in other skilled trades. 

Jeffery Scott’s book Become a Destination Company outlines what it takes to build the kind of company that attracts employees. As an industry, we can learn something from this approach and work together to reach scale.

We may have to reconsider some of the practices we’ve inherited and make some hard choices that will inevitably affect our bottom line. But if you haven’t noticed, our clients are willing to pay more. We all just have to learn to budget for it and adjust to changing market conditions. 

It is time for a major shift in a new direction. I challenge you to think outside the box and build a company that puts employees first and to shore-up those ideas with your peers in this industry.