Living His Onsite Dream Requires Working Seven Days a Week

Idaho’s Skylar Hunsaker launches an installing business on the weekends to “succeed or fail on my own and the way I see fit”

Living His Onsite Dream Requires Working Seven Days a Week

A common concern in the wastewater industry — and for installers specifically — is the graying of the workforce and the nagging question of who is going to step up and fill in the ranks of aging company owners and crew members. Not a month goes by when I don’t hear a contractor wonder, A. Where am I going to find young workers to get through a growing backlog of projects, and B. Who’s going to take over my business when I’m ready to retire?

The cynical among these industry veterans will mutter about how “young people just don’t want to work anymore.” Or that newly minted graduates are being hoodwinked into thinking that wearing a tie and working in an office is more attractive and profitable than wearing overalls and working with their hands.

It’s true that for one reason or another, the message that a wastewater trade can provide good family-supporting wages and a solid career path is not getting through to enough younger people. My daily view of the industry bears this out. Many of our hardworking contractors are slowing down at the same time the existing septic system infrastructure is getting older and new construction is on the rise. The opportunity for the onsite profession seems boundless right now.

So when I hear about younger people stepping into the onsite trade and anxious to make the most of it, I like to share these stories. Hopefully they will inspire others to do the same and provide a shot of new blood at a time when it is most needed in this industry. 

Skylar Hunsaker, owner of fledgling John Rae Excavation in Malad City, Idaho, is just one of these young contractors filled with energy and enthusiasm for this work. At 33, he works full time during the week for a local excavation company, and then on the weekends toils to build his own business, one septic system at a time.


I met Skylar recently when following up with new subscribers to Onsite Installer. It’s a valuable exercise to reach out to Installer subscribers to learn what topics they would like us to write about in the magazine. I do this regularly to make sure we continue to tailor our content to meet the needs of our readers. It was refreshing to talk to Skylar and learn about his laser focus on building his business and educating residential customers about their septic systems.

Skylar started in the industry after graduating high school and has worked for the same excavation company for 15 years. Along the way he has learned to operate a wide variety of machines the company runs, obtained his CDL to operate the big rigs, and he’s risen in the ranks to be a foreman for a crew that specializes in septic system installing. His career so far has provided many fulfilling learning experiences and fueled his interest in onsite work.

But he’s wanted something more; to scratch an entrepreneurial itch. But building his independent business is coming with some big challenges. It’s taking a seven-day-a-week commitment and there are financial hurdles to overcome. 

In 2019, Skylar decided he wanted to continue working full-time for the excavation company, Monday through Friday, and then dedicate himself to the startup on Saturday and Sunday. He informed his employer of his plan to get his OK, and then started spreading the word that John Rae was open for business. 


The company name combines Skylar’s middle name and his grandfather’s name (John) with a shortened version of his wife’s middle name (Raelene). While the name doesn’t speak to specific services he provides, it is a conversation starter, as it’s the first question most people ask him. 

Skylar started with a variety of small excavation jobs, sewer hookups and a handful of system installs, conventional gravity systems. Skylar holds installing licenses for both Utah and Idaho as his home and job straddle the state line. He has a pickup truck and equipment trailer, and also bought a used Chevy dump truck to haul materials. 

He started in August 2019 and completed six jobs and in 2020, upped that to 36. He tries to schedule jobs for most weekends. Some of them can be completed on Saturday, while others stretch into Sunday, or even Monday evening if he has to wait for an inspection before backfilling. 

Rather than go heavily into debt, Skylar rents all of his digging equipment. He says equipment is the biggest barrier to entry for most people looking to start their own installing businesses. He has his eyes on an $80,000 Bobcat E42 mini-excavator but wants to build the business enough to pay at least 50% of the cost upfront. 

Skylar would eventually like to take the business full time, but that depends on building the company and his wife taking a full-time job when their young child goes to school. He’s learning the ropes of marketing the company, starting with gaining lists of homeowners as they take out construction permits and sending out targeted promotional letters. He is also encouraging customer testimonials and now has nine five-star reviews online. 


“My goal for this business is to provide quality excavation and, more important, educate the septic system owners to the level that they need to be to make informed decisions about their systems,” he says. 

Skylar sees a lot of opportunity in the onsite industry. He says several installers in his area are in their 60s and young people will need to step up. He advocates for installing companies to approach two-year trade schools and recruit students who want to learn. He’s heard some say younger people are lazy and don’t want to work. But he doesn’t buy that.

“When I was young, I wanted to work. I busted my butt and there are some young people who want to work,” he says. 

He suggests society needs to recognize the importance of the trades and alter the attitude that everyone should aspire to go to a four-year college. Many people “see family members working construction, and they come home dirty and tired and are always broke,” he says. But that doesn’t have to be the image. 

“If you have the right company, one that’s more professional, one that charges more so you can pay employees more and make it attractive, that’s a start,” he says. The key is raising the bar on professionalism, he continues. “If you train (workers) to be more professional, that proves a lot with your customers. The average contractor who doesn’t communicate well and comes to the house and flicks a cigarette butt on your lawn, you don’t want to pay them high-dollar.”

Skylar’s can-do attitude gives me hope for the future of the onsite industry. Even though many challenges lie ahead, I want to dwell on this his entrepreneurial outlook.

“My goal is to be on my own and have the freedom to succeed or fail on my own and the way I see fit,” he says. “That way, the harder I work and the smarter I am about it, the more it pays off for me.” 


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