The Ultimate Recruitment & Retention Guide for Snow & Ice Contractors

Created November 16, 2021

Being in the trades is demanding and sometimes goes underappreciated. Snowplow drivers must be on call for emergency snowstorms, out braving the elements, and working long hours to keep the roads safe for others. It’s a difficult job, yet it can be rewarding—and sometimes even fun. Working for the right employer can make the difference between loving your job and looking for a better one. Here’s a few things business owners and managers should remember while recruiting and retaining snow and ice control operators this season.

Level Set Mindset—State of Industry

It’s no secret that labor is hard to come by these days and all businesses are facing the challenge of finding quality employees. There is no easy button for recruiting, which means retaining existing employees is more important than ever before. In early 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.3 million people have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic.

These front-line workers don’t have remote work luxuries like some sales or office staff may receive. As a business owner, it’s important to create a safe environment that your employees enjoy being in. Why should they want to come to work every day?

(HINT: the answer shouldn’t just be for a paycheck).

Build & Retain Your Loyal Employees

The biggest reason for turnover is usually for a better opportunity with improved work/life balance. People want to work at a place where they are challenged, valued, recognized, and can find meaningful work—and yes, competitive pay is important too.

Understand your teams needs so they don’t ever feel like their needs aren’t appreciated or being met. By being proactive and offering this type of environment to existing employees, it will benefit your retention efforts.

Here’s a few other ideas to help retain your valuable skilled workers:

1. Create a Positive Culture

Design your team and your space to be productive and pleasant. A positive culture starts from the top down. When employees feel like what they do matters and it’s appreciated, it creates loyalty that’s hard to find elsewhere. Take the time to build those relationships within your team. It’s harder to say goodbye to a boss you like working for.

People often leave when they have no ties to the company and no coworkers they enjoy being around. Start daily group stretches, discuss high-level initiatives, hold luncheons showing appreciation, reassure the team that you’re all in this together, offer service awards, and make a big deal about each person’s dedication to the company.

2. Offer Cross-Training & Job Rotations

Snowplows are exposed to a lot of wear and tear that will eventually need service. If you have the capacity, having an on-hand mechanic is a no-brainer. Finding a mechanic willing to cross-train your plow drivers is even better. Training drivers to fix their plow in the field will greatly reduce down time for repairs. It will also give your drivers an advantage they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and your mechanic will have a chance at mentoring and training others.

Job rotations are more of a long-term cross-training opportunity where two employees switch roles for an extended period of time. Having to walk in someone else’s shoes creates awareness and appreciation between departments and can also bring new solutions to the table by looking at a problem from another perspective.

Giving high performers a chance to experience more opportunities within the company can benefit you in multiple ways. Not only will it help strengthen the knowledge of your team but will also keep them happy, feeling fulfilled, and actively building their own career that can impact your company’s growth in return.

3. Conduct “Stay Interviews” & Promote From Within

Annual reviews don’t provide the opportunity to correct behavioral issues and an exit interview is too late to give praise and show appreciation for an employees’ efforts—it’s also too late to make an unhappy employee stay.

Resignations and turnover happen when the company is not stable and there’s a lack of leadership. Once employees see a pattern, they start wondering what else is out there. Having a revolving door of employees also creates frustration and burn out by those that have to pick up the slack and train coworkers multiple times, feeling like the responsibility all falls on them.

Take the time to hold “stay interviews” to gain ideas on how to re-energize the team, see how things are going, and let them know their voice is heard. Treat each employee like a new hire you want to impress. Engage on a quarterly or bi-annual basis to understand where each employee is personally and professionally, learning who they are as a person. Challenge those who want the additional experience and find it rewarding. Find out what is important to them, what makes them feel proud, what their interests are—and then make a point to deliver on that.

4. Rethink Your Competitive Benefits

There are some benefits that are too hard to pass up. Think of what you can offer that could move the needle, ask your team what matters to them. A good salary, health insurance, and a vacation plan are almost requirements these days.

Think beyond that: profit sharing, team building activities/parties, a day of stewardship, work flexibility during slow times, a warm meal at the office during storms, or perfect attendance awards are only a few ways to improve morale. There are numerous books on how to get creative with rewards and motivating employees without breaking the bank.

Define Your Business Differentiation Statement

In this competitive landscape—whether you’re recruiting or retaining—you need to make it clear what sets your company apart. Why do people want to work for you vs the competition? Other than competitive pay and a nice benefits package, what makes your snow and ice control operators dedicated to your company?

Set clear expectations up front and recognize good performance often. Have a motto—something inspirational, using simple words that are easy to memorize, embody, live, and teach. Revisit it regularly and integrate it in everything you do.

Superior Equipment Can Make the Difference

Most people are not looking for a labor-intensive job—and there’s only a small age group that is healthy enough to get it done efficiently. That’s why over the years, technology has grown to develop walk-behind, ride-on, and UTV powered equipment to get the job done faster and safer. Having powered machines reduces the amount of time and people needed to get the job done, which is especially important when looking for sidewalk crews.

Superior equipment has additional benefits outside of just making the job more tolerable.

  • Who doesn’t want to use the newest equipment in the industry? Making the job fun again and less labor intensive is enticing for a lot of snow and ice professionals.
  • Having technologically advanced equipment can even allow you to monitor your crew and material usage, giving you the data needed to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
  • Powered equipment results in less injury claims by ensuring sidewalk crews are more protected and not as exposed to the elements where they are prone to hypothermia, frostbite, or even being hit by a car.

Don’t overlook preparation or quality of equipment either—these things matter to your team too. Making sure the plowing vehicles are in good working condition, maintained regularly, and fully stocked with parts and tools in case of a breakdown. This can greatly reduce the stress of the job.

Recruiting Outside the Box

The job market is not like it once was. Job seekers have the advantage and employers need to adapt. Here’s a few tips on where to find the right people and how to think outside of the box with your recruiting efforts.

1. Who Has Your Labor?

Every industry is experiencing different highs and lows. You want to keep your full-time employees busy, or you may lose them for good if they find a new job during a temporary layoff.

Find out where you are short on help and look to outside industries for relationships where you can both benefit. Needs change and being able to adapt and build cross-industry partnerships is when you find yourself rising above the rest.

2. Who is Being Overlooked?

Get creative about how you think about the labor pool and where you can find good workers. Tap into populations that may be overlooked by others and break through the noise. By 2022, a huge portion of the working population will go into retirement, leaving us two million workers short in manufacturing and labor. It’s an all hands-on deck situation where any additional help is beneficial.

Driving a plow gets more efficient over time, but with a little focus and diligence, almost anyone can be trained to use a snowplow. Some people go out looking for an autonomous job where they can work independently and gain freedom, which is exactly what you get with snow and ice control. Being a plow driver can also be fun to use new, powerful equipment. It can be satisfying to watch a buried lot become clear with each pass.

Don’t ignore retirees, high school and college students, people on parole or work release programs, women, and immigrants. You can build loyalty and credibility by giving someone a chance and seeing something in them that no one else did.

Even though full-time employees can be seen as more reliable, don’t bypass someone looking for part time work. It could end up being a smart business decision since part-time employees can help ease the workload but don’t require benefits like health insurance and a 401K.

Some contractors are just looking for seasonal work in the winter and additional bodies can help your bottom line drastically. Having the personnel to be able to switch out crews during heavy storms will also boost morale by keeping your “starters” more rested and alert. Some subcontractors even come with their own equipment so you can gain seasonal help and expand service capabilities at the same time.

3. What Are Employees Saying?

Employee reviews matter just as much as customer reviews do—88% of people trust online reviews as much they do a personal recommendation. Use social media and the digital world to your favor. Create employee video reviews on your smart phone and post it to your website and social media. You can even run paid ads for employment and target a certain demographic you’re trying to reach. You may catch the attention of someone who isn’t even actively looking for a new job but could motivate them to apply.

4. Do You Offer Referral Bonuses?

Loyal employees can be your best advocates. Offer an incentive when they recommend your company to friends and family who are looking for employment. People generally want to work around other people they know and like.

How to Write the Perfect Job Description

All companies can write a job description—but writing one that inspires people and makes them eager to apply takes a bit more effort. Stay away from the traditional, dry company overview with required qualifications and the same benefits everyone else has.

Instead, ask questions to invigorate, inject some personality and make it conversational. You can do this by sharing employee testimonials and creating excitement around your culture. Why would you want to work there?

  • Be transparent. Explain if it’s full-time, part-time, or seasonal and what the potential is for growth. Include a competitive pay range up front so people understand what they are applying for. If it’s for an entry level job, mention that you’re willing to train. It could be exactly what someone is looking for as they’re trying to switch industries and find a new career. Including these details in your job description will help set initial expectations and not waste your time with people who are looking for something different.
  • Utilize keywords. This isn’t just important for optimizing your website for search engines. Utilizing keywords can work for job listings as well. Make sure to include important keywords so potential employees can find you easier as they are searching online for opportunities.
  • Share it. Once you have your description written, post it anywhere and everywhere. Tell your team about it so they can either apply for it internally or help you get the word out. Make sure digital is at the forefront of your recruiting efforts in order to reach more people faster. Your website and social media pages are a good start. There’s also free job boards like Indeed or Simply Hired. Other boards charge a fee, like ZipRecruiter, but the paid sites can aggregate your post to multiple job boards at once.

Keeping your current employees happy can be your best recruiting method—and the better you take care of your employees, the better they will take care of your clients.

Looking for a career at WESTERN®? We’re hiring! Our employees work in a team environment to create quality products—It’s what we do together that sets us apart. We offer competitive salaries and a comprehensive benefit package. Apply Today!