All signs point to blue skies for the onsite industry. Are you prepared to meet a growing demand for your services?
I’m an unabashed optimist when it comes to the onsite wastewater industry. Looking at the world around me, I see nothing but an upside for the community of hardworking septic system installers. Allow me to explain why.
Between 25 and 30 percent of North Americans utilize onsite systems to treat their residential wastewater, and I believe that percentage will be on the rise as developers move further beyond the urban centers and existing municipal treatment plants that are aging and testing their capacities. The Big Pipe is expensive to maintain and expand its coverage, and building new large-scale public facilities will be a tough sell as governments rebuild other crumbling infrastructure.
Speaking of crumbling infrastructure, millions of septic systems across the U.S. and Canada are aging out. They’ve usually outlived their predicted life span — many still functioning after 30, 40 and 50 years. They’ve served their purpose well, but concerns over pollution and tainted ground and surface waters are forcing governments to monitor these systems more closely and mandate replacements.
And more and more public health officials are moving to meet the fiscal challenges associated with requiring onsite system upgrades. Many state and local governments are starting to offer grants and no- or low-interest loans for repairing or replacing failing systems. This is partly a result of lobbying by the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association to direct tax dollars to the millions of homeowners who rely on decentralized wastewater treatment. NOWRA and the National Association of Wastewater Technicians have argued that fairness requires a small percentage of public dollars spent on wastewater treatment go to private systems.
In response to a great need, our industry engineers and manufacturers are constantly launching systems that treat wastewater better, offer improved reliability and require a smaller footprint. These systems help meet the demand for more housing and commercial development on lots that were previously considered substandard, and to meet greater population densities favored by urban planners.
All of these factors — and an improving economy — are indicators that you are well positioned to grow your installing business. And the past few years have only hinted at the great things to come.
The 2016 construction season has tested the limits of installers, some of whom report being busier than ever. If the weather allowed, installers I’ve talked to fired up the excavators earlier than usual last spring and plan to work as late as possible before the ground freezes in the north. Summer days were long, crews were tired and meanwhile the phone has kept ringing. And with stricter regulations nationwide and that aging infrastructure, there’s no reason to believe things will slow down in 2017.
TIME TO STRATEGIZE
So with the busy season winding down for most, what should you be doing to better take part in this industry upturn? How about planning to add crew members to take on more installing jobs or to fill a need for maintenance or inspection work? And that leads to another challenge: finding quality workers and training them for rewarding careers.
Here are a few ways to start the search for good men and women:
Network, network, network
Networking can take on a myriad of forms, from the simple to the sophisticated. Start at home by asking your best employees if they have friends looking for a quality work opportunity. Offer your employees a bonus if someone they suggest for a job is hired and becomes a positive contributor to your company.
Approach the local high school or technical college and partner with instructors to offer paid work experiences to students who show an interest in the trades. Be patient and willing to nurture young people who may develop into the next generation of leaders in the onsite industry.
Use social media and other contacts — such as your local Chamber of Commerce — to promote a job fair day at your business this winter. Offer refreshments and a personal tour of your facility, providing a hands-on look at the equipment you use. Introduce your current staff to potential employees and let them sell newcomers on the great things the industry has to offer.
Offer better incentives
Perhaps it’s time to review what you offer employees in wages and benefits to attract high-caliber applicants. And upping your game on the human resources front may provide another benefit: better employee retention, keeping your best employees around longer and developing them into management material.
Look at what you pay your crews on average. How does it stack up against what workers make doing similar jobs in your community? There’s nothing wrong with overpaying a little as long as you can afford to do so. Better wages will bring better employees, and workers who perform at a higher level will translate to a better end result and happier customers.
Consider offering some sort of profit sharing or ownership for workers who’ve made great long-term contributions or who have special skills you need to grow the business. Talk to your accountant or financial adviser to get direction on possible ways to let employees share in the success of the company. The concept of “employee ownership” on any level might be a bit scary, but there are creative ways to reward workers for helping you build the business.
Younger workers, the millennials, have different priorities in a job than baby boomers or Generation X. While older workers are used to rising early and working until sundown and might want as much overtime pay as possible, younger workers can value things like flexible scheduling or a 40-hour workweek to accommodate their lifestyle.
And as health insurance continues to rise in cost, workers may be impressed if you are willing to help them pay for it.
I’m convinced that blue skies are ahead for the onsite industry. And with the 2016 busy season behind you, the next few months will be a great time to contemplate how your company can take advantage of a sunny forecast. If you have business-building ideas to share with the rest of us, please feel free to let me know about them. Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can include your tips in the magazine.