Attracting and hiring talent is the most significant challenge facing pest management companies, reported 32 percent of PMPs in the PCT-NPMA 2016 Business Outlook survey. More than 40 percent said access to quality employees is hampering the growth of the pest control industry.

“We can only grow as quickly as we can recruit, hire and train highly capable coworkers,” said Alfie Treleven, president of Sprague Pest Solutions in Tacoma, Wash.

“If you have that right team in place, the business usually takes care of itself” but “finding the people who can manage growth” remains difficult, said Bryan Cooksey, president of McCall Service in Jacksonville, Fla.

According to the survey, 52 percent of companies plan to increase head counts at their companies this year. But compared to a year ago, 49 percent of PMPs said it is just as difficult and 43 percent said it was more difficult to recruit employees today.

Tight job markets are one reason. Sprague Pest Solutions operates in seven states; in some markets the unemployment rate is 3 to 4 percent. While the company’s recruiting efforts can pull in 30 to 40 applications for a position, only 1 or 2 applicants might share the company’s goals, said Trevelen.

Younger workers are another challenge. Often they’re “not willing to put in the physical, manual labor that it takes to do a lot of the work that is required” and they change jobs more often, which is frustrating and expensive as it takes “at least a year” for a new hire to be trained, comfortable and competent, said Darren Van Steenwyk, technical director of Clark Pest Control in Lodi, Calif. As such, “we end up having to cycle through a few more” new hires than we used to, he said.

Braman Termite & Pest Elimination in Agawam, Mass., started a whole new process of interviewing, hiring and onboarding after hiring its first human resources manager in 2016. (It hired 25 people total last year.) “We’ve taken a lot of time getting the right people here; now we need to take the time to make sure they want to stay here,” said General Manager Rob Guyette.

Recruitment and retention are a focus of NPMA’s 2017 strategic plan, unveiled in January. The association’s PestVets program also created “an uptick in the NPMA Career Center and we expect this to continue to grow,” said CEO Dominique Stumpf.