Contractor/Small Business Corner

Retaining Irrigation Talent By Eric Santos, CAIS, CGIA, CIC, CID, CIT, CLIA, CLWM

With the recent economic upturn, unemployment rates are lower than they have been in many years. For many irrigation contractors, securing irrigation talent has become one of the biggest obstacles in keeping up with business demands and growth. Retaining existing staff members can be just as challenging as finding new talent. The following steps are simple reminders of how managers can retain the current talent that has helped their businesses grow and become successful.

Step 1 – Recruit Right

The first step in improving retention is hiring the right people from the start. Always look for potential team members with traits that show a passion for what we do, and always be honest about the difficulties in the jobs we face. Yes, we may have the fortune of working in the beautiful outdoors, but don’t forget to let candidates know about the days when temperatures are in excess of 100 degrees. It’s also important to mention the days when it’s below 50 degrees, and the job involves working outside in water. Never “candy coat” the reality just to convince someone to take the job.

During recruiting, look for potential team members searching for a career and not just a 40-hour-a-week job. Be cautious of team members who jump from company to company within the same industry. There is nothing wrong with looking for a better opportunity, but the potential

candidate who is looking to leave their existing company will likely continue looking even after they are onboard.

Be extra critical of the candidate who says, “I’ve been working in irrigation for many years and know how to do it all!” As part of the interview process, develop open- ended questions to get the candidate to talk about specifics, but beware of fast talkers who sling irrigation jargon to try to impress you with how much they know. During the interview, assume you are looking to hire someone to replace yourself. Taking the extra effort to recruit right will help long-term retention.

Step 2 – Welcome to the Team

Once the candidate is hired, treat your new staff member as a member of the team and not just as an employee. People don’t work for companies — people work for people. If new hires feel like they play an important part on the team, they are more likely to become loyal employees.

Take every opportunity to connect with your team and make the interaction as personal as possible. Never open a conversation with a request related to the business. A simple, “Good morning” at the start of each day with a smile or a, “Thank you for all of your help” at the end of the day with a handshake doesn’t take a lot of time, but it really goes a long way. On Fridays, ask your team members if they have any exciting plans for the weekend,

and on Mondays, ask about their weekend. Take the time to genuinely connect with every team member regardless of position and tenure, and always treat them as equals. There is nothing more demoralizing than having a manager walk by you without saying hello, making eye contact or acknowledging you.

Never underestimate the impact of small details such as taking time out of your busy schedule to wish team members a happy birthday. Be genuine and show them that you care about them as individuals, their safety and their families. Always be flexible about personal and family commitments. Team members should know that families always come first.

Step 3 – Motivate Your Team

Make the time for motivating activities such as the occasional team lunch. If the team needs to work late to finish a project, take them out to dinner. If the team has to give up a Saturday away from their families for work, offer to treat them to lunch. Use these opportunities to get to know your team better, announce events such as employment anniversaries, or recognize team members in front of their peers for hard work and a job well done.

Step 4 – Invest in Your Team

Always invest in education, training and continuing education for your employees throughout the year. There is a growing number of online education training sessions offered by the Irrigation Association, Cal Poly’s Irrigation Training and Research Center, Rain Bird and Hunter Industries that can be taken on your own time. Offering to pay for education and certification classes shows team members that you value education and that your organization is willing to make an investment in personal development.

38 Irrigation TODAY | April 2017

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