When we asked how challenging employee recruitment and retention have been over the past three years, 34 percent of PMPs said that retention is challenging or very challenging. Nearly twice as many — 62 percent — said the same about recruitment. Only 10 percent of respondents feel that attracting quality employees has gotten easier.

RECRUITMENT DIFFICULTIES? The employment market presents its own challenges where recruitment is involved. But PMPs place a couple of factors above economic conditions. More important than the size of the labor pool, you tell us, is the quality of the labor pool. While just over a third (36 percent) of respondents cited the improving economy as a hindrance to recruiting, well over half said they are hindered by the lack of qualified candidates (61 percent) and the poor work ethic of candidates (56 percent).

“There are a lot of people who will apply for a position but just don’t want to work — at least not at the level we need them to,” says Brett Lieberman of My Pest Pros in Fairfax, Va. “By nature, pest control can mean working long hours. Technicians might have very early or very late appointments to accommodate customers’ schedules, and most candidates aren’t willing to be that flexible.”

Maybe that’s one of the reasons two-thirds of PMPs say that service technician is the position most difficult to fill. Other potential reasons: Crawlspaces. Spiders. Snakes. Hornet nests. Technicians need a fairly courageous constitution to go out and do battle with pests every day. They also need detective skills and perseverance, says Lieberman. “This job doesn’t lend itself to rote memorization. You have to be inquisitive, pay attention and be a problem-solver. That’s not everybody,” he says.

And if he can add one more point: Strong communication skills are essential.

“Once I thought a new employee must be using voice to text because the comments on his reports made no sense. I would have to go back into his notes and try to figure out what he was trying to convey. I discovered later that he just had very poor language skills,” Lieberman shares. “I’ve since learned to be more pragmatic about interviewing, not just going on personality but also testing for basic math and writing skills.”

Customer service and other office positions tend to be easier to fill because they require more broadly available skills. Management can be easier to fill, too, in large part because companies tend to promote from within. But, if you don’t have someone in line for a sales position and you need to go outside, it can be a rough go, says Jeremy Clark of Dugas Pest Control.

“It’s hard to be successful in sales in any industry, so you really have to look hard to find good talent,” he says. “Plus, some candidates aren’t interested in pest control because they don’t think of it as the sexiest or highest-paying business. That’s why we focus on finding up-and-coming sales reps who might be more likely to stay with us for a few years.”

RETENTION IS EASIER. As noted previously, PMPs aren’t nearly as concerned about keeping employees as they are about attracting them. Turnover reports help explain why.

Overall, PMPs reported turnover rates (over the past three years) averaging about 14 percent if you look at the mean, 7 percent if you look at the median. Either way, these are relatively positive numbers, given 10 to 15 percent is generally considered by business experts to be a “healthy” turnover range. Diving more deeply, 58 percent of respondents reported turnover of less than 10 percent, with 27 percent reporting no turnover at all for the three-year period. On the high end, about a quarter (24 percent) reported turnover of 20 percent or more.

Who’s leaving? As might be expected, technicians are leaving companies more often than those holding customer service, sales and management positions. Managers represent the smallest turnover percentage.

“The low unemployment rate puts more pressure on businesses: Employees know they have choices, and they are always looking to see if they might do better somewhere else,” says Burns Blackwell of Terminix of the Triad. “We talk about retention a lot, exploring proactive measures we can take to keep people here, keep people happy. We believe that the key is building a culture where everyone wins.”