The Young and the Restless: Recruiting young labor

By |  April 30, 2019 0 Comments

How a superintendent is being proactive about recruiting young talent to the industry … and how he thinks we can do more to spread the word

Editor’s Note: Because the author’s golf club likes to keep a low profile, the author has asked to remain anonymous.

Photo: Seth Jones

Photo: Seth Jones

During my career, hot topics in the industry have come and gone. In the last couple of years, the focus has been on labor. This is one issue that isn’t going away anytime soon. We can sit around and complain about it, but what is that going to accomplish? The numbers in turf programs are down, availability of Hispanic workers is down and young kids seem to be jumping into technological industries.

Why are fewer kids getting into turf? How many superintendents reading this just decided in high school or college that they wanted to study turf without working on a golf course?

Consider how our industry has evolved. As Hispanic workers entered the market, it was easy to find good and inexpensive labor. We stopped hiring high school kids — or at least as many high schoolers. We were negative about the industry as the economy turned south, and even if you had kids working for you, they listened to the hardships you spoke about. There is a huge gap for these kids to fill now, but we have chased away young people from our shops.

A young laborer mowing (Photo: Seth Jones)

“We’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years by employing local kids and cutting back on overtime.” (Photo: Seth Jones)

I constantly hear complaints about the next generation not wanting to work. Have you really tried hiring these young people, working with them, training and empowering young minds?

I visit local high schools to talk about the industry. Guess what? Nobody knows we exist! We have to spread the message ourselves. Nobody is going to do it for us. Go speak to the environmental science class at your local schools, reach out to the Boy Scouts, FFA or other organizations.

My yearly visit to the guidance counselor involves a conversation about introducing me to the middle-of-the-road students who think they want to work outside. I drop off a flier with pictures of outside work and my contact information. Posting an ad on Facebook may be another way to appeal to high school kids. Maybe it isn’t as easy to find these young people, but I promise they are there, even in the wealthiest areas. We went through a dozen to find a few good ones the first year, but then I learned that some of these kids had a friend who they wanted to bring with them the following year.

We made it fun and trained them on various machines. Kids want to feel proud of what they are doing, and empowering them to think is a huge incentive. If you hand out mindless work all the time, a mindless attitude is what you get in return.

Young laborer rolling greens (Photo: Seth Jones)

Hiring local high school kids during the summer creates exposure to the turf industry and may even help cultivate future turf students. (Photo: Seth Jones)

The 30-hour week

We have a unique system, and it seems to be mutually beneficial. We hire local kids to work 30 hours a week, only in the morning. They are able to go to the pool and hang out with their friends in the afternoon, and we aren’t babysitting half of our crew every afternoon. They work every weekend — when we are busiest — and never on overtime. We hire more people than we need at one time so they can take family vacations. It’s OK, because the cost is low for a young local kid who is never on overtime.

We also allow the employees to play golf on days we are closed so they better understand the impact their work has on the course. Maybe they will be members some day. They might even be an experienced green chairman someday!

We have turned three local kids into turf students in the past few seasons, with another one heading to turf school in the fall. As these young people express interest, our demands of them increase so they fully understand what the business entails.

As long-term employees continue to get raises, these positions reset as many local students go to college or graduate. We’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years by employing local kids and cutting back on overtime. It works, but in turn, you have to work at it. The younger workers might be hard for the assistants to manage and train. The mechanic might have to fix a few more things, as employee turnover is inevitable.

However, this system has worked for us and is much cheaper than racing landscape companies to see who can pay more. I know what I was like as a high school employee, and many people took me under their wings to help me get to where I am. I think we can do the same for the next generation and provide a great value to our clubs.

Make turf fun again!

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