Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Desperate Plight for Skilled Labor

Back in the day, it seemed like you could snag people off the street to fill vacant greenkeeping positions , like picking crabgrass off untreated plots of turf.   At least once or twice a week, it was pretty much guaranteed some joker would pop in asking for a job, so I have to ask.....what the fuck happened?

For the past year I've attempted to fill our, "spray tech" position to no avail.  The first kook I hired texted me the evening before he was scheduled to start, talking some shit about a doctor's appointment.  For a little perspective, his start date was the day after America's birthday, so my immediate thought was, "this is totally sketchy".   Now I'm no, Jimmy McNulty, but it certainly didn't require the instincts of a homicide detective to figure out this wanker was most likely tipping back a few beavos with his boys and definitely wasn't feeling a 5:30am start.   And to say I haven't been in this similar situation back when raising hell was my primary gig, and weedeating pond banks was basically a secondary responsibility of mine would be a gross understatement.   I knew the deal, but letting this clown get away with such a weak ass excuse just didn't seem copacetic.  Bring a doctors note on the sixth or don't even bother showing up is what I instructed him via text, and not even an hour later, this moron comes back at me saying how he was able to go online and reschedule his appointment (*1).  Go figure.  The next morning, this patriot comes sauntering in ten minutes late like everything is cool, and had no idea his future at Newark Country Club had been decided six minutes prior to his late arrival.  Perhaps if he didn't attempt to weasel out of his first day on the job, I might've overlooked him being late, but things weren't really jumping off to an ideal start.  Letting him go seemed like the logical choice, so I politely told him to hit the road.  Surprisingly, he didn't seem too pissed.

The second person I hired actually lasted longer than four minutes, but he wasn't all that great. Out of the three people I scheduled to interview after the patriot debacle, this kid won by default.   But is it truly a, "victory" when one of the candidates doesn't even show, and the other rolls up sporting his fanciest Lee dungarees and a Bud Light t-shirt? (*2)  Fortunately, the kid who scored the job seemed genuinely into it and excited to start.  Unfortunately, he was perhaps the biggest space I ever met in my life.  And being a person who toured with The Grateful Dead in my late teens, it's definitely not a stretch for me to say I know spacey when I see it, and this kid ranked right up there with the spaciest of the spaced out wingnuts I ever encountered while galavanting around the United States following The Dead.  Although this kid was very likable, "spacey" certainly isn't a characteristic you desire for a spray technician.  He lasted just over a month.

It's been quite the ordeal, and one year later I still have not found a capable person to fill this position, and I know I'm not alone!  All of my greenkeeper peeps are feeling the labor pool pains, and it certainly is a topic that regularly arises amongst my colleagues.  Personally, I totally get why I attract junkies for this crucial position, because I'm offering junkie wages.  Junkies seem surprisingly attracted to fourteen bucks an hour, with no overtime or health bennies, and getting laid off for two to three months in the winter.  Oh, but they do get free golf and a nifty uniform.  Recently I was chatting with a member of our club about the labor situation, and he came up with the old, "why don't you just hire some Mexicans?"  I didn't know whether to vomit, punch him in his stupid mouth, or play dumb with a phony snicker.  Although I preferred option two, I chose another option.....the truth.  Mexicans or as I prefer, Latin Americans have totally figured out their worth, and they aren't down with junkie wages.  They demand more than what I'm offering, and rightfully so.  My friends from Mexico City, Tenancingo, Oaxaca and Michoacan , along with my amigos from Guatemala and Ecuador have paid their dues in the greenkeeping game and have since moved on.  They're building our houses, paving our roads, repairing our cars, working year round while earning a much better wage doing these trades rather than raking a goddamn bunker edge for nine bucks an hour.  The Latin American labor pool that was so prevalent twenty years ago in our industry has been drained.  And those Latin Americans sill hanging around in golf course maintenance are more than likely Vice Executives of Agronomy and  Head Greenkeepers.  I used to love ripping Spanglish on a daily basis.  Unfortunately the only time I speak it now is at the Taqueria.

The industry of greenkeeping, particularly when it comes to golf courses is full on hurting for qualified people to fill our workforces (*3).   So what in the hell are we going to do to about this incontestable epidemic?   As you can imagine, I have some ideas.....

My beautiful wife, whom I love more than any other person on this earth, teaches in a gifted and talented program for fifth graders in our state.  She's the one who should be writing a blog about her gig, because teaching wickedly smart ten year olds is way more interesting than nitrogen, chinch bugs and manganese.   Pretty much the best part of my day is hanging out with her after work, sipping drinks, while she regales me with stories about her students.   They're usually hilarious, but a couple of months ago she came home with a story that truly pulled on my heart strings.

Immigration is a topic of the fifth grade curriculum, and while my wife was teaching this lesson, a mother of one of her students visited her classroom to recount her story about immigrating from Vietnam to America.  Just prior to the fall of Saigon, her mother, father and seven siblings, ranging from sixteen to a year old, crammed onto an overcrowded fishing boat for the sole purpose of finding refuge from their war torn country.  During the trip the boat broke down and they had to wait for another boat to rescue them.  When this boat finally arrived, all the passengers had to hop from the broken vessel and on to the rescue boat in the middle of the South China Sea.   She explained to my wife's students how she was just five years old, and terrified beyond belief, to attempt what undoubtedly was, the most important leap of her life.  And if you're wondering about the one year old....the mother made this jump while cradling the baby in her arms.  Following this harrowing experience they finally made it to the refugee camp which was located in Thailand.  They remained in the camp for nearly a year, before a family in Philadelphia sponsored them to come to America.   As this family of nine from Vietnam arrived in the states, not knowing the language nor culture, they willingly shacked up with this sponsor family, who also had six kids of their own.  The father eventually scored a job as a janitor at a church just south of Philly in Wilmington, Delaware, and this girl, who fled the communist oppression of her country, jumped from one boat to another in the middle of the South China Sea, lived in a refugee camp for a year, shacked up with six white kids in Philly, went on to become a well respected high school English teacher in our state.

I welled up pretty tough after hearing this story, but my feelings of sorrow soon regressed to anger due to the political climate that is currently permeating throughout the good old USA.  It really got me thinking about the millions of refugees fleeing the terrible conflict in Syria, and how if we were just a bit more empathetic as a nation, we would  be welcoming these Muslims with open and caring  arms, instead of labeling them as terrorists and haters of western democracy, therefore denying them entry into what used to be, the greatest country in the free world.  Why is our buffoon of a president leading this charge?  He is a golf course owner, shouldn't he know better?  Doesn't he realize he is denying us the opportunity to flood not only our industry, but the countless other skilled trades searching for affordable labor?   Instead of lowering the immigration quota, we should be upping it!  And before everyone goes all Breibart news on my ass, please let me ask you this simple, two part question.  Would you rather have some white, junkie ass stiff American who can't make it to work until forty five minutes after staring time because he has to wait in line to score his fucking suboxone, or a refugee from Syria that has fled his war torn nation in hopes of better life?  Who do you think is going to rake that bunker edge, or weedeat that pond bank with more authority and determination for nine bucks an hour?   My well earned loot is on the Syrian, and if he happens to be some goddamn ISIS prick guised as a proponent of western culture, and decides to blow my meaningless life to smithereens with a homemade bomb derived from products he pilfered from our chemical building, I will gladly make this sacrifice.  Because I'll probably have received some quality hours from this guy, and if my fellow greenkeepers throughout the states have reaped the benefits of a Syrian workforce that truly walks the line, then I would totally deem my life expendable for the betterment of our industry.  Most people in this world are good, and I truly believe if we were to allow Syrian refugees into our country, they would work their asses off for us., not blow us the fuck up.  We as an industry should be pushing for this.

Preparing my budget last year was not fun.  Similar to how the middle class of America is vanishing so are the private clubs that cater to the middle class.   I am currently employed by one of these mid tier clubs, and to put it lightly, we're hurting.   It seemed like every time I met with the budget committee they would cue up the Friday the 13th score and slash down my budget pretty tough.  One idea I did propose, and I thought it was truly brilliant, was to use the technological advancements of today's modern equipment to our economic advantage.   I proposed purchasing one of those spiffy new wider than average rollers that basically roll an entire putting surface in a minute instead of hiring a seasonal employee. Because I roll more than I mow, the justification was we could roll greens much faster with this more modern roller than the piece of crap we currently own.  Old roller = 3.5 to 4 hours to complete all  greens while new roller = 1.5 to 2 hours to complete all greens.  The basic gist....Turnover from rolling greens would be much faster, pretty much enabling us to transition more quickly to a second job,  therefore deeming it unnecessary to hire an extra seasonal employee.  The savings wasn't that significant, but it did cut around a thousand bucks from the overall budget, while upgrading our roller.  To my dismay, this well thought out plan was not approved.

Despite my, "L" at the bargaining table,  I did implement some tactics this season to compensate for our labor shortage.  One of the first things I did was reduce the size of the fairways.  I don't know who came up with this brilliant idea prior to my arrival, but all the landing areas on the fairways were like fifty yards wide (*4).  Fifty is probably an exaggeration, but the edges of the landing zones were definitely stretched out to where the last droplet of irrigation landed.  And in my professional opinion, this really wasn't the ideal strategy for a single row irrigation system celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, plus it looked aesthetically whack.    By interstating our manageable fairway acres from 24 to 19.5 you'd have to be a complete moron not to notice the domino effect it has had on our efficiency and costs savings.   Mowing time has been decreased by almost an entire hour which should also equal a pretty nice cost reduction in fuel.  Obviously, our pesticide and plant nutrient  costs have trended downward, but the one thing, I'm totally jacked about is the actual time it takes us to complete spraying fairways.  Last year, our spray rig operated in fourth gear low, creeping at about four miles per hour.  It took us all fucking day to spray fairways, and with myself tasked to this duty, it really annoyed the shit out of me that I could listen to an entire Joe Rogan podcast, and not even finish the front nine (*5).  Over this past winter, I hooked up some new nozzles, and recalibrated that jawn.  Now I'm crushing fairway sprays in second gear high and still have some minutes to spare on that Rogan podcast.  I really loathe self promoting, but I'm going to go there.  I'm super proud of what I did with our sprayer.   Last season I totally dreaded having to spray, only because it took like a million hours.  This season, I'm finished by 10:00am which leaves me a pretty full day to accomplish other things that need to be done.

I could totally add a paragraph here about how implementing the MLSN guidelines has been a gigantic costs savings, therefore giving me some extra dough to throw at labor.   And I really can't wait to figure out this ginormous number, but that'll have to wait (*6).

Pulling little tricks out of my ass definitely has alleviated part of the labor pool issue, but it certainly has not solved the problem.  And what about our association?  Are they doing anything to curtail this lousy labor trend?   You would certainly assume so, but to be completely honest, I personally believe the association isn't doing much.   While attending a local chapter meeting prior to the presidential election last year, a lobbyist from our association was a featured speaker.  He spoke to us about WOTUS, plus the law which would've required any person earning a salary of less than forty eight grand a year to be compensated with overtime pay, if this person were to work over forty hours a week.  Even a hippy like me gets the WOTUS thing, because let's face it; associating the water hazards on our golf course with the Clean Water Act does seem like a bit of a stretch (*7).  But I just could not comprehend why this suit was lobbying against improving wages for our industry?   Isn't it the association's responsibility to have our best interest at heart?  And how is opposing higher wages, particularly for the people who need it most in our trade, the Vice Executives of Agronomy, in our best interest as greenkeepers?   To me, lobbying against higher wages favors owners, and the big Walmart style management companies that operate golf courses, not us!  And if this law had passed, guess who it most likely fucks?   ME!!!!!!  The club I currently work for probably doesn't have a sliced drive chance in hell of surviving if they have to pony up for an assistant super, or an assistant pro, or a sous chef, or any other jamoke earning a salary of forty eight thousand a year.  And again, just as I'd be willing to sacrifice my life to some jihadist asshole for the betterment of our industry, you better believe I'd be more than willing to sacrifice my job if it meant  more cash crammed into  the khaki pockets of my brothers and sisters in the greenkeeping game.  In my opinion, the association needs to step up.

Man I've been going off, and I appreciate you hanging tough up to this point.   This final thought isn't necessarily a popular one (*8), and I don't ever expect what I'm about to propose is ever going to happen, but I'm going to initiate this conversation anyway.  To me, greenkeeping is a skilled trade.  You just can't train any yahoo to lay down a frozen rope on a fairway mower, or hand some random jerk a cup cutter and expect the game's final destination, the golf hole, to be perfectly cut while also placed fairly upon a putting surface.  Then why do we as an industry insist on paying the people who perform these skillful tasks fast food wages?  Perhaps if we were to pay the laborers of greenkeeping a living wage, and offer 401k's , paid sick leave, vacation time , and actual health insurance , as opposed to a free fucking lunch and golfing privileges on Monday afternoons, we might be able to recruit and retain some good people.  It is my firm belief , that if our industry were to come together, organize, and establish the means to collectively bargain, this shit labor situation is solved.  Roll your eyes.  I get it, but the unions of our country used to be the backbone of America.  Pretty much every kid I grew up with had a parent associated with a union, and life was good.   I'm frustrated with giving our club's money to the companies that monopolize our industry.  Why is it that a goddamn fairway mower cost fifty grand and the person operating that piece is making nine lousy dollars an hour!  It's maddening, and I say it's about time we start investing in people as opposed to lining the pockets of shareholders who take advantage of the niche market that is golf.  I know this union idea is unpopular, and totally far fetched, but I'm a very angry hippy that is highly frustrated with the direction our industry is headed (*9).  "Greenkeepers Local".  Lets seriously think about it.  

Footnotes

1) I despise having these types of conversations via text.  If you can't make it into work, please pick up the phone and call me.

2) I probably would've hired the dude in the Bud Light t-shirt.  He had previous greenkeeping experience, but when he mentioned something about wanting to, "fucking kick his old boss's ass", it scared even a hard ass like me.

3) And we're not alone.  All the skilled trades are hurting for workers.

4) Guaranteed it was the Golf Pro's idea.

5)  Joe Rogan podcasts are extremely long, but I Love me some Rogan!

6) Explaining the costs savings of MLSN will be it's own post.  I can't wait to write it!

7) I definitely would not have been upset had WOTUS passed.

8)  Perhaps it's more popular than allowing Syrian refugees to fill our labor needs?

9)  I'm also generally frustrated with the direction of our country right now.   The middle class is vanishing and it is killing me.  No one cares about the hardworking people that make this country go. It seems like the only concern of big business is appeasing their stockholders, and this is sad.  It wasn't always this way.




































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