Monday, September 8, 2014

Now hiring: Snow & ice workers

'We have a workforce development challenge in the exterior building services industry, with snow & ice services in a particularly difficult situation.'

By Martin Tirado, CAE
"Now Hiring." That statement is on a large sign posted at the headquarters of a prominent local snow and landscape contractor in the Milwaukee area. After talking with dozens of SIMA members at the Snow & Ice Symposium, the sign could easily be posted by just about any snow company in North America. The sign should be a welcome one for job seekers since this work often includes pay well above minimum wage, steady work, and the opportunity for career advancement. The trouble is that the workers snow companies need aren’t applying. 

Winter work limits the talent pool
We have a workforce development challenge in the exterior building services industry, with snow & ice services in a particularly difficult situation. We know the challenges of maintaining a reliable workforce: snow & ice work is unpredictable, requires working in some of the worst weather conditions, and when the snow hits we are on call with all of our customers at the same time. This equates to high employee turnover or a workforce that just isn’t interested in working in this field. 

SIMA visits the Capitol
At SIMA’s Legislative Day on Capitol Hill, we talked to our elected members of Congress to address the challenge of workforce development. The potential minimum wage increase is not a factor, since SIMA member companies are already paying higher than any proposed wage increase. Immigration reform is part of the equation, since there is a noncitizen workforce that has helped us and can continue to do so. Unfortunately, immigration reform is a complicated legislative issue, which results in a cumbersome regulatory environment to put noncitizens in the workforce and on a path toward citizenship. Most small businesses do not have the time or infrastructure necessary to deal with the red tape.

When sidewalk crews are offered in the range of $20 per hour and businesses cannot find workers for these positions, there’s a problem. Recently passed bipartisan legislation appears to be setting the correct direction to help companies. Implementation at the state level and having a direct impact on small businesses will need work and assistance. 

Where can you help?
Offering opportunities for vocational and other training is critical, since there appears to be a need to get more people involved in horticulture programs after high school. If you’re in a cold weather climate, these horticulture programs need to offer training in snow & ice management, and this is where our industry can have a direct impact. 

Another workforce option that needs change is incentivizing people to go to work. It’s not easy for small businesses, particularly in snow & ice, to operate. Oftentimes, the regulations related to unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, OSHA and others make the employer guilty until proven innocent. I encourage you to look to your local and U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their positions on labor and see where you can help.

Legislatively it’s going to take some innovative thinking and action to create solutions to our labor challenges. SIMA is representing our 1,600 member companies and thousands of employees in this effort. With your help, we expect to see some results. 

Martin Tirado, CAE, is chief executive officer of SIMA. Contact him at

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