Indicators Show Hiring Will Be a Big Challenge in 2019

Good workers are hard to find. Follow these tips to hook them, reel them in and turn them into loyal helpers for your business.

Indicators Show Hiring Will Be a Big Challenge in 2019

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I am hooked on a popular police drama that reruns constantly. Earlier today I sat down with lunch in front of the TV and when I turned on my show, the first thing I heard was two cops talking about what jobs would turn them off in a girlfriend. “Cesspool cleaner,” one of the cops blurted, and they both laughed.

Ouch! I know folks in the wastewater industry don’t get enough respect, but that was uncalled for. But seriously, a PRO’s job description does probably limit the pool of good candidates you have for a route driver and technician. It seems to me that you have a bigger recruiting and retention challenge than many of the skilled trades. You’ve probably had friends or family tell you they’d rather do just about anything than hop on that service truck and clean restrooms.

As you deal with that reality, you are probably also contemplating needing to hire a few new employees ahead of the 2019 busy season. The economy is improving. Your construction routes are getting denser and longer. The phone is ringing more for both construction and event units. This trend, thankfully, doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon and it’s inevitable you’ll need someone to help shoulder the burden.

This is where your hiring challenge begins. And recent numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics aren’t going to make it any easier for you.


According to the most recent report, outlined by Bloomberg News, job postings are up, the number of unemployed workers is down, and maybe most interesting, the number of job-quitters is the highest in 17 years.

The summer 2018 snapshot from Labor Department shows job postings outpaced the total number of unemployed people by 659,000. Job openings nationwide were 6.9 million, while hires were 5.7 million and separations were 5.5 million. Of employees who left a job, the layoff, or discharge, rate was 1.1 percent, while the quit rate was 2.7 percent, up from 2.4 percent earlier in the year and the highest since 2001.

Bloomberg News cites another survey from the National Federation of Independent Business, which found that 38 percent of U.S. small businesses had jobs they couldn’t fill, said to be a record since 1973.

These numbers are validating something you probably already know: You’ll find slim pickings when you go out searching for quality workers. And if you do find someone who does a good job, you need to keep him or her happy. And if you hire someone who is rough around the edges, you might not want to be so quick to give them the boot.

So here are four steps to overcoming what might be perceived as a gloomy labor outlook:

Find ’em: Of course you’re going to use the usual channels to get the word out about your job opening. Post the job on Craigslist, use Indeed or other online employment search services. In this day and age, and when you’re trying to hire millennials, it’s probably money wasted to take out an ad in the newspaper, unless you have a well-read local weekly newspaper. But reach out in less conventional ways as well. Ask your friends and neighbors to spread the word about your opening. Offer your employees a bonus if they encourage one of their friends to apply, and if that person is hired and is a success for 3-6 months.

When you broadcast your need for a new employee, be sure to do some research and make sure you’re presenting an attractive opportunity. First and foremost, that means competitive wages and benefits. Ask your local chamber of commerce or survey other business owners to set a benchmark for what you’re willing to pay a qualified candidate. And don’t be cheap about it. Realize that even some fast-food restaurants are raising their starting pay to close to $15 per hour. Someone entrusted with your expensive equipment and responsible for taking care of your loyal customers must be paid accordingly.

Hire ’em: Take a look at your revenues and what you’re charging, and make sure you’re charging enough to turn a profit and attract potential hires. Your cost of doing business is always rising, so you need to monitor fees for service, as well as the labor market.

The same goes for benefits, such as health insurance, a 401(k) plan, paid time off, etc. Depending on competition for workers in your area, you may need to up your game to get quality people to take a look. Consider ideas such as a sign-on bonus, a small stipend for a new worker who shows a good job performance for the first three months, extra dental or life insurance benefits, etc.

And the benefits don’t all have to be about the money. Flextime is increasingly popular, allowing workers to tweak their schedule around family responsibilities. How about allowing a worker to start at 8 a.m. instead of your usual 6:30 a.m. so they can get kids off to school every morning? Or what if they can work a split shift, mornings and evenings, so they can take in a school program or get to a doctor’s appointment? Or you may look at a schedule of four 10-hour days to give workers an extra day off. What’s the harm in being flexible with the rules if all the work gets done?

Keep ’em: It’s so much work bringing on a new crew member and training them for those first several weeks. It’s imperative that you convince them to stay for the long haul. Keeping employees leads to better, more consistent customer service, greater efficiency and a reduction in your workload. Keeping them means keeping them happy.

The first step is making them feel like part of a successful team. So match them with a mentor, one of your best workers, to learn the ropes. Take your time training them so you set them up for success instead of throwing them to the wolves. You might think team-building exercises or social gatherings are a waste of time when there’s a lot of work to get done. Fight that impulse. Look for ways your crew can enjoy some downtime together — grill out for lunch on Fridays or take everyone to a sporting event on the weekend.

Look for other creative incentives that will reinforce their decision to join your company and become the loyal helper you’re looking for. Offer uniforms and use a cleaning service so they don’t have to take dirty clothing home to wash. Set up performance bonuses based on efficient route-running or complaint-free service. Provide them the best equipment possible, from their service trucks to new and undamaged restrooms. All of this shows you appreciate the employees and take pride in your business.

Don’t fire ’em: Sometimes I hear PROs say they put new employees on a short leash and they won’t tolerate costly mistakes. They are quick to judge an employee as a screw-up and let them go. Fight that thought, and show patience to employees as they learn how you want things done. Put yourself in their shoes. Everything is new to them. They’ve likely never done a job like this before, and there are many safety regulations to follow and techniques to learn. You may be shaking your head at week four as you watch them struggle to complete a trouble-free route. But if you give them time to learn and become proficient, you might be happy to see them grow into a great employee.


These are challenging times for a small-business owner or manager. Keeping your crew happy and performing up to your standards means you might have to pay a little more, show a little patience, and spend more time than you are used to coaching and inspiring your workforce.

But there is good news. You face these hiring challenges because the business climate is better than it has been in years. Rather than spending all of your time beating the bushes for new customers, the phone is ringing with opportunities to make more money.  

So you can’t really have it both ways. If you want to build the business, you’re going to have a bigger job managing your workforce. You have different problems than you did a decade ago, but they are better problems to have. 


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