John Terhesh obtained his bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Southern Illinois University in 2009. He began his career at Willoway Nurseries in Avon, Ohio, as an intern and after advancing his career, came back to Willoway in 2016 as a head grower. He will be discussing “New Ways to Find Labor,” as well as “Growing the Industry: Attracting and Retaining Young Professionals” at Cultivate ‘18.

NM: How important is it for nurseries to find good, experienced labor?Terhesh: Finding experienced labor in today’s market would be comparable to finding a needle in a haystack. Most nurseries are doing everything they can to retain their best employees. Many times, employers are now settling for someone who does not fit into their company’s culture. They are overlooking a poor fit in favor of the candidate’s experience level. This leads to other issues with employee retention and morale.

NM: So, it can affect the proper functioning of a nursery?

Terhesh: It can cause more stress and increased workloads on your remaining employees, which has a chance of creating a snowball effect of employee turnover. There is also a required number of workers to complete jobs efficiently. Without that optimal number of employees, the crew’s efficiencies diminish leading to poor performance.

NM: Does not hiring capable workers have a negative effect on overall employee morale, sales and ultimately the bottom line?
Employers need to ensure candidates will fit the culture of the business. Don’t settle for a bad fit just because they have experience.

Terhesh: Not hiring the right employee leads to something called “actively disengaged.” That “actively disengaged” employee is not a good fit and is unhappy in your company’s environment. They act out their unhappiness at work. Many times, this happens without management being aware, and slowly they see their crew’s productivity and quality decrease over time. If that is not bad enough, they have a chance of changing the morale of other coworkers, turning those coworkers into “actively disengaged” employees also.

Photos: Laura Watilo Blake

NM: How big of a problem is finding labor in the industry?Terhesh: There is a notion of this industry being only for immigrants with low pay and long hours. Many schools have dropped their horticulture programs and others have failed to market to the green industry, leading to a low number of horticulture graduates. This, coupled with increased job demand and climbing wages in the construction fields, has lowered the number of potential workers.

NM: So, it is crucial is it to fit the right person to the right job?

Terhesh: Yes. Employers need to spend ample time thoroughly interviewing the candidate, taking into consideration their drive to learn and their personality while also ensuring they will fit the culture of the business. Don’t settle for a bad fit just because they have experience.

NM: What can nurseries do, and the industry in general, to proactively enhance the possibility of finding good labor?Terhesh: Find candidates with a good cultural fit regardless of experience and then spend the time to train for the job. This will greatly increase the pool of potential employees, while allowing the employer to become more selective while interviewing. Assuming the employer’s selection process was done thoroughly, the company will have an employee who fits in well, is eager to learn, and has a great attitude.

NM: How important is it for nurseries to pay and treat their workers well so that they will be encouraged to remain at their jobs and influence other capable workers to join the business? Terhesh: A study from the Center for American Prosperity says that the average cost to replace an employee is around 16 percent of their salary. An hourly employee making $30,000 a year would cost about $4,800 to replace. It is in the employer’s best interest to help them succeed every chance they get. Give employees respect no matter the circumstances, pay a fair wage, and allow them to take some time off if needed. Create a pleasant work environment and keep employee retention in the front of your mind.

Want to go? “New ways to find labor” Sunday, July 15 | 11:30 - 11:50 a.m Knowledge Center