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FACT: We are currently in a historically significant labor market that has increased the difficulty of hiring quality candidates.

FACT: The horticulture industry does not have enough professionals in it relative to the number of roles needed in each company.

FICTION: People are attracted to your name and reputation, so the plan should be to keep hiring experienced people from only within the industry, which will provide a pool of high-quality candidates that will enable future growth .

It is always better to run your business and hiring based on FACTS.

The FACT is, the current unemployment rate as of this writing is 3.5% — making this one of the strongest candidate’s market we have ever experienced. In a recent GIE Media 2019 State of the Industry Report, 64% of companies reported finding high quality hires as difficult or very difficult.

It is a big decision for a candidate to move from one company to another in the same industry. The role and offer must be extremely compelling. Decision factors will include career progression (not lateral), increased focus on cultural fit, financial strength, a growing pipeline with new products or services, and of course, a significant improvement in compensation and benefits. Are you trying to hire for a position that requires relocation? It dramatically increases the level of difficulty and requirements for a candidate. Why go through a relocation unless everything you have ever dreamt of as a professional is on the table?

Hiring in the horticulture industry is increasingly challenging, compounded by the fact that we have not attracted enough professionals into the industry over the last few decades. In general, the “agriculture” industry has the highest median age of any industry per the 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey at 48.1 years old. If the estimated 40% of green industry professionals who are eligible to retire do so in the next three to five years, the talent gap will grow to a distressing level. There is also an unusually large gap of professionals in the 35- to 50-year-old demographic. The horticultural sector continues to lose talent in this range to a host of other industries, including technology, finance and other professions. However, our industry is starting to see a nice increase of interest by 20- to 30-year-old professionals who are attracted to its focus on sustainable, environmental and organic solutions for a healthy planet.

Unfortunately, this increase in new talent is too little and too late to solve the impending talent gap. Snowballing the complexity of the talent gap is the massive growth in cannabis, hemp and the vertical farming vegetable space. Many of these incoming professionals are more attracted to these sectors of the industry due to the perception that there are faster career growth trajectories and stronger compensation packages available than in the ornamental and nursery industry sectors. Even with this overall increase in interest, there are four jobs open for each professional available in the green industry. When hiring for specific roles such as a “grower,” the ratio increases 8-1.

A new paradigm

There is an effective and proven solution for increasing the pipeline of quality professionals to hire. However, it does involve change — a change in how we approach hiring. This move is hard for organizations to make since it is different and requires a new way of thinking and identifying quality talent, along with a new method of viewing human resources in your company. It is a change that requires leaders who have viewed hiring through the same lens for 30, 40 or even 50 years to scrap the old paradigm. However, it is not a brand new change since many Fortune 1,000 companies and other industries have already evolved to this hiring practice quite successfully. For them, it is opening vibrant pipelines of talent to continue the success of their companies.

The change allows for the hiring process to focus on the specific success behaviors of an individual. The difference is NOT hiring based on the specific technical knowledge of plants or chemicals or substrates. The change means NOT hiring sales professionals based on the old “book of business” methodology. The change does mean that time and resources need to be invested in understanding and implementing behavioral-based hiring. It also includes investing more robustly in training and development within an organization.

The logic is that how you behaved in the past will predict how you will behave in the future, or past performance predicts future performance. By focusing on behavior and motivations, instead of just skills and experience alone, this proven and customized method (aligned to your culture and values) has led to successful hiring across a variety of industries and platforms. The goal is to identify professionals whose past experiences mirror the required behavior necessary for success in a position. We have all developed specific behaviors since we were born. The older we get, the more these behaviors are ingrained in who we are at our core. People can modify behaviors, but when stressed either positively or negatively, we exhibit the core behaviors we have developed.

Behavioral-based assessment includes 25 identified behaviors that are then put into four behavioral trait families. These trait families focus on motivation, modes of acting, modes of interacting and modes of thinking. Implementing the behavioral-based assessment process involves identifying and ranking in order of importance the top five to seven behavior traits that a specific role and company culture have required for success. Each unique role in the organization will have a different set of success behaviors due to the requirements of the position, how the position interacts within the company, level of leadership and how the role interfaces with customers, vendors or alliance partners.

Once the final successful behaviors are identified, a set of questions is created to determine just how closely a candidate exhibits the desired behaviors. In addition to the experiences the candidate shares relative to that specific behavioral question, each response assessed will have social, personality and communication markers that demonstrate that behavior in a person’s life. During the interview process, each candidate is uniformly asked the same behavioral-based question and is scored on a scale of 0 (does not exhibit behavior) to 3 (exhibits the behavior fully). Qualified interviewers pay attention to social and personal behavior markers throughout the entire process.

Behavioral assessment hiring includes investing in a specific onboarding plan for individuals coming into the company and developing a robust training and development program. This program makes for a much healthier company even when not hiring based on success behaviors. A 2016 Forbes study showed that effective onboarding could improve retention rates by 52% and time to productivity by 60%. Defined training and development programs help companies build a sustainable pipeline of talent from within, reducing the need to hire externally, increasing retention and creating a positive company culture.

The result is an increase in high-quality candidates for the roles in the horticultural industry. For example, while a breeder position will require specific plant science academia and experience, which limits the talent pool, this talent pool can now be expanded by applying a behavioral-based assessment in interviewing candidates with a background in other plant varieties other than ornamentals. Customer-facing positions (sales and customer service) experience some of the sharpest increases in candidate flow when applying a behavioral-based assessment process. This approach is critical in the green industry, which has such a high retirement cliff occurring now and into the next 10 years. It helps companies break the cycle of hiring the same talent yet expecting improved results. Stealing a sales professional from the same type of company, yet expecting dramatic increases in sales, rarely leads to success. Add into this the number of non-compete clauses companies have enacted, and many product sectors are incapable of even stealing a professional from another company in their niche.

The change does mean that time and resources need to be invested in understanding and implementing behavioral-based hiring.

How many high performing sales, business development, finance, logistics and production professionals have we passed on as an industry because we wanted them to know our exact product or our exact customer? How many high-quality leadership roles have we limited the candidate pool unnecessarily because we only looked at professionals with a specific plant, product, or growing experience?

There is a behavioral solution to the hiring challenge. Is your organization capable of making the change? It is not difficult but does take commitment, an initial investment in time and specific resources.

That is a FACT.

Todd Downing is a Partner at BEST Human Capital & Advisory Group, through which he provides retained executive recruiting and human resource advisory services including HR auditing, retention strategies, onboarding development and succession planning for horticultural industry companies.