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After years of worries about a condensed workforce, industry associations are offering some encouragement from a big-picture, long-term perspective.

Organizations are exploring and rolling out apprenticeship programs. The Florida Swimming Pool Association was the first to hit the gate, announcing in January that it not only began such a program, but that it was approved by the state for its apprenticeship program (See page 16). Other groups, such as the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance and the Northeast Spa and Pool Association, are exploring similar programs, as well as ways to reach out to young people and add pool/spa industry training to colleges and trade schools.

But as the industry grapples with how to draw more workers into the fold, individual companies must strategize to fill positions now. Learn what some professionals do to find — and keep — good help.

Julie Kazdin
Vice President
Kazdin Pools
Southhampton, N.Y.

There is a lot of use of the H-2B visa option in our area, and that has been severely depleted with a lot of government regulation that is not allowing for previous visa users to automatically get to come back. The problem has spread to basically every seasonal business out here — lifeguards, hotels, things of that nature. So we’re all competing for the same people.

Our service department, in particular, is very reliant on seasonal help. We have three techs year-round, but we hire up to 20 during the season. So, for us, the key is to create a culture that makes them want to come back every summer.

The most important thing is finding what inspires each person. Not every person likes to go out on a vac route every day; not everybody likes to install things. We ask them at the beginning of every year, “What are you hoping to do this year, and what do you think this year should be like for you?’ Then we have an idea where everybody should go. We give them more of what they like, less of what they don’t like.

We really try to tailor their experience to what they individually like. I think the best thing is if you get to know your people, and they see that you’re making an effort on their behalf. The culture just automatically changes.

We also offer a sign-on bonus. And all our crews take online training over the winter. If they finish a certain portion, they’ll get paid it for when they return.

A lot of it comes from referrals by our employees. I always tell them, “Please don’t have anyone come here unless it’s someone you want to have work here in a truck with you.” And they do take it to heart.

Bill Berry
General Sales Manager
Claffey Pools
Southlake, Texas

We’ve been working with some of the local universities to coordinate internships and apprenticeships, bringing in people to working during the summer as apprentices in design and sales. We’ve hired two or three of them, and they’ve become really good employees.

We have some degreed landscape architects on staff here, so they know professors or have been involved in the departments of local universities. We go through different programs and post on university message boards that we’re looking for summer apprentices. And we rely pretty heavily on recommendations from their professors.

We’ll bring the interns in to work in our drafting department or with some of the salespeople so they can eventually become salespeople. They earn a salary just like any other employee during the summer months.

We usually get them to come in their sophomore year and work for two or three summers. We hire them on permanently if they’re a good employee.

We’re not averse to using people from schools of architecture or construction management.

At this point, we’ve had a 100% success rate. In most of the landscape architecture programs, they teach a lot of design work, but it has very little to do with the pool industry. Fortunately, the skillset works its way over into our business pretty well.

Mike Geremia
Geremia Pools & Landcaping
Sacramento, Calif.

Finding a good designer can be especially challenging, because in many companies they have to learn not only how to sell the pool, but also how to design it.

There are other companies that split those two jobs up. The company bares the cost of the designer, but they’re probably getting a bit more consistency in their design work. And that way you just need to find somebody with one of the talents — I can find somebody who is either already trained in sales or only needs to be trained in sales. And then we have somebody who I’ve already trained in design or already has that eye for it and is familiar with the software. I think that’s more effective in terms of finding people to fit all those jobs.

Debra Smith
Pulliam Pools
Fort Worth, Texas

We are typically contacted by people looking for work. When I have someone come in and I know they’re going to be a wonderful candidate, I hire them. Whether I can afford them or not at the time, I typically do it anyway. And I’ve never regretted it, because once you find good talent, you hire them and you find a way to make it work.

I will make a place for them. I did that last spring, for instance. A guy came in, and I could tell he was a very good person to have. It was for a superintendent position. We didn’t need someone at the time, but I hired him. It wasn’t two months later that we lost one of one my other superintendents.

As far as subcontractors, we used to have one or two in each phase, and now we have several in each trade to keep up with demand and to mitigate the struggles that the subcontractors are having with hiring good tradespeople.

Scott Cohen
Green Scene Landscaping & Swimming Pools
Los Angeles

Everything I do in my company is to reward longevity. It’s done in subtle ways.

As an example: At our holiday party each year, you get a raffle ticket for each year you’ve been with the company. So guys who’ve been with me 20 years get 20 raffle tickets. Up on a table are a couple big screen TVs, sound systems, phones, margarita makers — all kinds of really nice gifts. So the people who’ve been here for a while get rewarded, and newer employees see those coworkers leaving with great gifts.

One of my employees recently told me that he considered changing jobs a few years ago — but his kids wouldn’t let him because then he couldn’t win all this stuff!