By Allison Gordon
With the unemployment rate at a 50-year low, is it any wonder that employers are struggling to find and maintain employees? Within the pool and spa industry, this has long been a hardship, but over the last few years, it has just seemed to become even more difficult. In the Jan. 1 issue of Service Industry News, we surveyed Generation Z potential employees in an attempt to learn the features of an attractive job. What, exactly, do they want?
Turns out, they want a lot of things we weren’t quite expecting: diversity in the workplace, mental health support, and competitive wages.
Now it’s your turn. As small business owners, what difficulties are you having with today’s applicants? How are you finding labor, and is that method working for you? What are you looking for in an attractive employee?
We turned to our readers to find out.
For many of our readers — 31 percent of those surveyed — the search for employees begins on traditional job sites such as Indeed. However, these job sites aren’t always helpful. According to Sue Dalton of Diamond Pools in Bridgeview, Illinois, many people apply through Indeed without actually reading the job description. When the time comes for an interview, they fail to respond.
“The non-responsive ghosting issue happens even when an offer letter has been signed and a starting date has been set,” Dalton said. “These last couple of years have been extremely difficult to fill open positions.” That fruitless result has caused many employers to rely on referrals, and a lot of times, this is the method that produces the best results. In fact, about 42 percent of the readers surveyed said that they count on referrals to find good labor, and that might reflect the generally tight-knit quality of the pool and spa service sector.
Going through your social network, both personal and professional, seems to produce the most reliable employees. One reader said he asks his friends' kids because he feels like he can trust them better. Regina Lancaster of Kelley’s Pool and Spa Care in Chula Vista, California, said that some of her best employees have come from customer referrals.
David Hastings of Hastings Water Works in Brecksville, Ohio, uses financial motivators for referrals.
“Word-of-mouth referral is the best bang for our money, relative to other sources,” he said. “We pay $250 when a service technician is referred by another employee and is hired. We then pay another $250 when that technician is still employed by us 90 days later. $500 per referral total.”
As we all know, finding workers is only the first hurdle; the next challenge is keeping them.
The pool service industry is generally composed of small businesses. The majority of readers surveyed have 0-5 employees. Many of these businesses are eager to grow but continue to have difficulty with keeping service technicians.
Roger Neill of I Pools AZ in Phoenix said that while he has many
Preferred ages employers want to employ. applicants, few stick around for the interview process. And those who do, he said, “barely last six months or more.”
“That's a lot of wasted time for a small business,” Neill said.
And if you can keep them, can you actually get them to do the job?
An overwhelming majority of those surveyed said that reliability issues — laziness and poor work ethic — are their top complaints about the workers they hire.
They are “truly not prepared for the obvious: moderate hard work in the outdoors,” said Chase Cummings of Trophy Pools and Service in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Pool service can be a tough job, and employers are looking for service techs who take pride in their work, complete tasks without being asked twice, and do so with a smile.
However, from where the pool industry sits right now, this is a difficult ask. Many employers may not be offering benefits that actually motivate some younger workers. While many jobs offer competitive wages, only 6.7% of businesses surveyed said they offer paid time off, which is a popular request for younger generations. This may be among the reasons so many employees turn away from their employers and begin the job hunt once more. In fact, 24% of pool professionals surveyed stated that job hopping is an issue with today’s applicants.
A significant number of people said something to the effect of, “the younger kids never work out — 30 to 35 is preferred.”
One employer said he prefers to hire those who are looking for a second career: “We have had terrible success with the Gen Z employees we have had.”
That said, 46% of companies surveyed still stick to hiring those under 30 because of the physical demands of the job. Some employers, however, said that the age of an employee does not matter but rather the content of their character.
For Julian Miller of Advanced Pool Service in East Northport, New York, age isn’t really a factor.
“If an employee is willing and able, we can teach him whatever he needs to know,” Miller said.
Attitudes like Miller’s, as well
What business owners offer to incentivize employment.
as providing a familial, close-knit workplace environment, actually do seem to be among the best incentives to attract and keep those willing to work. David Hastings, who has 25-30 full-time employees and 250+ seasonal workers, says that in addition to paying higher-than-average wages, he also provides: Flexibility in work hours, 11 paid holidays including their birthday, free lunches every Friday for the office staff in summer season, three to four BBQ's seasonally, and many more smaller perks.
Like other business owners with numerous employees, there is one more thing that Hastings said he offers that may be more important than anything else: “A great working culture that is more relaxed and family-like and great support for the work they do.”
Problem areas that employers have with employees.