Finding Enough Employees Can Be Such a Pest

Nov 23, 2011
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

One small business that’s hiring is in the pest-control field, saying it can’t find enough people to fill jobs as service technicians, customer service representatives, service managers, and sales managers. It even had to cut back its radio ads recently, as they were driving sales that could not be serviced due to a lack of employees. “We couldn’t recruit people fast enough,” says Anderson Pest Solutions president Mark O’Hara.

Anderson is a family-owned outfit, started in 1913 and handling tens of thousands of homes and businesses. It has just under 200 employees but wants to grow about 25% over the next few months, adding 25 “co-workers,” as it sometimes calls them, by the end of the year, and about 25 more early in 2012.

And not only is it hiring, but human resources is part of its marketing to prospective customers. They’re told that “Anderson retains technicians longer so customers get more consistent service.” And they are asked, “How many different technicians have handled your account during the past 24 months?”

Anderson is hiring in Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Indiana. The business is cyclical, with fewer pests in the winter, ants arriving in the spring, a slightly slower summer, and ants and yellowjackets in the fall.

It’s playing up its careers as being interesting, pretty stable (see graphic at left) and always in demand, as well as environmentally friendly. That last part of the value proposition, O’Hara says, is a biggie both for customers and recruits. Rather than offering just a few “green” products, the whole company is based around trapping, not using rodenticides. Rodenticides suck up a lot of resources when they’re produced, he says, and they also can end up in dumpsters.

This approach means more labor, more expertise. It’s so different from what O’Hara says competitors do, that the company doesn’t recruit from competitors. “Trying to weed technicians off of a tank is hard,” he says. “Communicators, service, heart, attitude — that’s what we’re about. It’s not the traditional ‘see and spray.'”

Anderson is also touting its community involvement. Carrie Missele, a regional sales manager I talked to, is particularly fired up about a program where if the firm adds 25 people before this year’s out, it’ll donate $5,000 to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

This isn’t a sexy industry — “A stigma we need to overcome,” O’Hara says. So the company is doing a number of things. For one, not finding enough success with career offices and career fairs at schools, it’s talking to professors about the company, about their students, who might want to be an intern, and so on.

It’s bringing in people for internships where they rotate through different parts of the company, and then do an open-ended project at the end where they present ideas for improving Anderson. Some interns can then come back a second summer, and help put on the intern program for first-year interns. O’Hara says he’s also going to be working with a (very successful) public charter school called “Urban Prep,” in Chicago. Students will spend a couple weeks shadowing Anderson employees, and then will receive a paid trip to a university. O’Hara believes that once the student actually sets foot on a university and knows it’s within their reach to receive an education and have a good career, they’ll be more likely to want to go to college.

O’Hara said he initially thought people might want to read things like facts about animals on Facebook, but that he wisened up. “Nobody wants to hear that,” he says. They want to know, “where does this fit in with my life?” So the Facebook page has videos about life at the company.

There’s more. They’re trying to hire more women (and three female technicians have started in the last five months, after not having one in many years; O’Hara attributes this partly to having female recruiters). They’re trying mentoring programs. They’re trying to get more employee referrals. Past interns are appearing at career fairs and sales parties, like a party held at a race track. “When you get one of your students there,” O’Hara says, “the response is much different.” It used to be tough to compete at fairs against a company like Anheuser-Busch, he says, but after all of the above the company has been trying, “we actually have a line now.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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