What’s the trump card – skills or character? Email
Wednesday, January 28, 2015 10:00 PM


Recruit for character over skillsIn an industry that requires skill in execution and the consistent delivery of services, common sense logic would indicate that job skills are number one and that experienced workers are always in the driver’s seat when it comes to being hired. Seems logical, yes, but the results of ALCC’s Fast Friday poll earlier this month indicate that some companies have always prized character and others are shifting their priorities in that direction.

We asked, “What’s your #1 hiring priority, job skills or character/qualities?” And for those willing to say more, we also asked if they had changed their recruiting game plan during the last couple years in response to the shortage of people to fill positions at all levels.

For 78% of landscape companies responding to the question, character traits always trump skills when recruiting and hiring employees. Only 10% cited skills as most important, but their reasons for putting skills ahead of character were reasoned and compelling. The remaining 12% were in the “it depends” category. They generally weigh the priority of skills versus character traits based on the nature of the job. Designers, for example, must walk in the door with the training and ability to create landscape designs.

While some firms say they have always put character above skills, recruiting for traits appears to be an emerging trend during the last three years or so. One-fifth of the firms who place character over skills indicate they shifted priorities recently. “Properly trained candidates are always a plus, but it’s seldom these candidates who come through the doors,” was one person’s reply that represents many. For another, “Even if there was a surplus of talent, I now believe this is the way to go.”

A mountain-based owner wrote, “We started hiring for personal characteristics about three years ago, and I think it has helped us hire people we can retain year after year.” Another believes “people with character are always more teachable and more reliable.” For about a year, this owner has been actively recruiting to find good people period. No landscape experience required.

Casting a wider net
Hiring based on skills alone is limiting. As one respondent put it, “The experienced people in our industry have already cycled through all of us. We are willing to train completely and that is the direction we are willing to go.”

Large companies to small, many say they are beginning to recruit from other industries or on the spot anywhere they happen to be. Two large firms noted they are looking outside the industry, but have their eyes on similar industries with similar clients. People with service-based backgrounds, from the food and beverage industry, for example, are high on the desirable list.

Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table was praised by one owner for guiding her firm in a new hiring direction. “Not every person worked out, but it helped move us closer to creating an excellent team,” she said.

One owner reported recruiting his server while he was out for dinner. That waiter is now being groomed to become a project manager. Another firm has a former school teacher coming up the learning curve to be their next project manager. The emerging strategy seems to be to grab the good people wherever you find them. As one respondent summed up the current hiring scene, “Training and a bit of a learning curve are just part of the game these days.”

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green NOW:
Why one company puts skills first
Mi Casa is resource for Denver metro employers
Building green: Colorado trees could be new construction resource
Are you on track with 2015 resolutions?

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