Business planning: The labour challenge

With staffing becoming increasingly problematic, Neville Stein looks at the alternatives to finding good recruits.

As Brexit draws nearer, the issue of potential labour shortages within certain sectors is gathering urgency, but seems yet to be properly addressed by those responsible in Westminster. It is a worrying time. The NFU stresses its concerns regarding the serious shortage of seasonal labour in the fresh-produce sector, an issue that will also significantly impact on our horticultural sector and its viability and competitiveness.

Whether you are a garden retailer or a wholesaler, you will probably be familiar with current recruitment challenges and worried that they can only get worse. Faced with nearly full employment, it is increasingly difficult to find staff, at whatever level, to work in a business. So what can one do? My last article looked at retaining and investing in the staff you have. This one covers finding them in the first place.

First, make sure that you are a good business to work for, and then sell yourself as such. It does not take long to build a reputation one way or the other in our relatively small industry, so make sure that yours is a good one. Second, be creative, be persistent and be discerning — go panning for gold. Recruitment can be costly and time-consuming so you do not want just anybody, you want the best possible from the widest available choice.

To recruit the best horticulture specialists...it takes Horticulture Jobs 

One way is to use recruitment agencies. While this comes at a price, a significant amount of time and hassle can be saved and this method is useful for recruiting for more senior positions. Should you need to recruit large numbers, this could prove expensive, but you can help the speed and success of the process by being very clear in your brief and providing up-to-date, accurate and attractive information for the agency and prospective candidates.

Spending time getting your house in order regarding your human resources practices will, when the time comes to recruit, save you time and money too. This means ensuring that you have standard  job descriptions and personnel specifications for all roles as well as an updated company profile that provides adequate detail.

Internal recruitment

Another method, often overlooked, is to promote an existing member of staff to a vacant position. It is a misperception that legally all jobs have to be externally or publicly advertised. Keeping it internal can have significant benefits. The individuals concerned are already familiar with your culture, work practices, goals and objectives, so with training could quickly become effective in their new role. They will not feel demotivated by someone moving in above them and are likely to reward your faith in them with enthusiasm and commitment.

Recruiting from within also provides a career path for existing employees, which in turn helps with retention, but it is wise to consider internally advertising a post if there are a few possible candidates and to show a transparent selection system. This helps to avoid charges of favouritism or discrimination.

The downside to this policy is that your culture — the way you do things — rarely gets challenged and can stagnate. It can be healthy to bring new people into a company because they come with fresh energy, ideas and motivation. True, they may shake things up, but there is nothing wrong with that. The other result of internal promotion is that it will still lead to a job vacancy, but this will be at a less senior level and is likely to be easier to fill.

Make sure though that when you do bring new staff into your organisation that you have a robust and thorough induction programme. Get this right and it should ensure that the new team member becomes effective as quickly as possible.

Using existing staff to be your eyes and ears is a great way of attracting new people. Get staff to mention job vacancies to their friends, family, acquaintances and other networks. Encourage them to mention it on their social media networks. You will be surprised how quickly word will spread regarding your vacancies. Why not incentivise staff by offering them £50 for every successful job applicant they bring to you? 

Social media generally is a great way of spreading the word, so make sure that when you do advertise you use social media to point people towards your advert. Likewise, encourage those in your network
to repost or retweet the job adverts. There is an enormous amount of goodwill in the social media space, so use this to raise awareness of your job vacancies.

Advertising, of course, is the traditional and very effective way of attracting staff. It is however only ever as good as your choice of media used. The advert needs to be seen by the right people at the right time, so when planning your campaign find out the readership or listening profile and the reach of your chosen media. 

Advertising can also be effective when used internally. If you have a business that is consumer-facing, then take every opportunity to promote your job vacancies. Place an advert at the till, use table talkers in the café and get your staff to talk about the vacancies. Chances are, some of your customers would love to work in your business. How often have you heard of employees joining an organisation because they loved shopping there? It happens, so capitalise on a captive audience.

Horticultural experience is not always necessary to fill a role effectively in a horticultural environment. Some skills sets such as those of retail, finance, business development and customer service are transferable, and on-the-job learning can fill in many specialist knowledge gaps. True, how much better it would be to recruit trained and skilled horticulturists to a planteria, but if they do not exist then what are you going to do?

Attracting people from other retail environments is a good strategy. All you need to do is help them learn their plants. This embraces the idea that we should recruit for attitude rather than skills, providing a wider and deeper recruitment resource. In the long run, it is a lot easier to teach someone about horticulture than it is to train them to be enthusiastic, energetic and good with customers. 

Neville Stein is managing director of business consultancy Ovation


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