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Phil Bahler

Combating the labor shortage
By Phil Bahler

As a hardscape installer for the past 34+ years, I have experienced the trials and rewards of working with employees. As a contractor we were one of the fortunate ones who crossed paths with Charles Vander Kooi in 1988. He taught us the valuable lesson that we are in the “people” business. As owners how do we fulfill our role to motivate, groom and support those that work for us so that we don't experience the labor shortage?

Most employees have a wish that requires time, money or both to achieve the end goals. In knowing what is on their wish list we can understand what keeps them motivated. Encourage those you manage to physically write down and display their dreams and goals on a board with pictures. This will be a constant reminder of why they get up in the morning, and it will give them purpose. We want all of our staff to come to work with their goals in the forefront of their mind, so they don’t lose focus on why they are working. We need to give our team that which is worth working for.

The greatest recommendation I can give in dealing with people comes from the Bible: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” You will also read about humility. Humility is a key component to a life of success. In the book called Good to Great by Jim Collins, it states that some of the greatest leaders in the world had 1 virtue in common, that’s right, humility.

In the work place we all work together as a team. We work collectively to achieve goals that would in no way be possible to achieve as an individual. Remember no single individual has ever won a professional baseball game. I had a special uncle who continually drove into my mind that “no one likes a know it all.”

Bragging and leadership should never be in the same sentence. One thing that we have found to be extremely effective is to listen. I repeat, listen. We are in a grueling industry. 15 years ago it was barbaric. It doesn’t have to be.

When employees bring concerns, such as “My back hurts,” or “This product is so heavy,” let them know you care and take action! The more we gain respect from those around us; the more people will want to work for us and with us. Looking at ourselves in the mirror as leaders will help us more effectively nurture and keep help.

Happy, satisfied employees can become your greatest recruiters to help grow your company in a healthy way.

So far we have talked about understanding what motivates employees and what we can do as leaders to change ourselves to be someone people want to work for. That brings me to my last thought:

How can we support our people?
First, do your research. Look for the tools, equipment and practices that will alleviate some of that strain to create a better work environment. We can’t afford to not supply our staff with the right tools or they will move on to be successful elsewhere. Using tools and systems for installation will increase productivity with less labor. Invest the time and effort into training your staff correctly.

When you’re feeling frustrated about the labor shortage, ask yourself if you’ve taken advantage of the resources and people that are available. When employees see a company that is constantly evolving and growing as a result of the input of the team it strengthens the relationship and makes them realize that this can be their life long career.

In conclusion, it all goes back to “people.” If we can find favor and respect in the eyes of our staff, we have all we need to combat what is classified as “the labor shortage.”


Phil Bahler is the owner of Pave Tool Innovators founded in 2006. He is still involved with Bahler Brothers hardscape contractors where he was a co-owner for 33 years. Contact Phil at PB@PaveTool.com or visit PaveTool.com