The Workforce Evolution: How Workplace Culture Adapts to Solve the Labor Shortage

Originally published in Pool & Spa Marketing

Commonly shared across the labor market, the pool industry is faced with a mounting challenge: Evolving to solve for the next generation of workforce development. Facility managers and aquatic directors, service companies and retailers, pool builders, designers, and engineers alike report it has become increasingly difficult to attract and retain young people to the pool and spa industry. It seems a new breed of workforce is evolving, with unique expectations of the workplace. In response, adaptive employers are nurturing workplace culture to attract new recruits.

Compared to generations past, this new age of workforce is no longer as interested in having a job per se as in having a purpose and making an impact. Their engagement at work is less about collecting a paycheck and climbing the ranks than about personal growth and making a difference. Gallup research similarly reports that today’s employees expect “job clarity and priorities, ongoing feedback and communication, opportunities to learn and grow, and accountability.”1

Listening to the needs of employers from various segments of the industry, paralleled by the expectations of their potential workforce, a workforce solution emerges. Many employers are finding that even as they know the pool industry can be stressful and demanding physically, their staff take confidence and dive deeper when provided with tools to succeed. Not easily accomplished, but achievable, the following employers and employees demonstrate the potential of a culture shift in attracting and retaining top talent.

Setting Clear Expectations

TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY Assistant Director for Aquatic Operations, Cassie Mae Honey

The inherent risk surrounding pools, as well as the public’s perception of aquatic workers, can pose a hiring challenge for aquatic facilities. Students and young workers often feel the pressure of the job is not worth the small hourly wage they earn. Assistant Director for Aquatic Operations Cassie Mae Honey understands the stress her staff are under, and how it impacts her ability to retain them. Honey manages the strain “by setting reasonable and clearly defined expectations for her staff and then working within the boundaries of those expectations.” She says these expectations are first outlined in the job announcement so that potential candidates can decide from the very beginning whether becoming an aquatic professional is an appropriate career choice.

When choosing the correct candidate, Honey looks not only at the candidate’s physical skills but at the diverse background and experience the person would contribute to strengthen her team. Having a wide scope of backgrounds allows for fresh ideas and contributions to make a team stronger and well-balanced. This diversity helps improve overall resilience among staff when faced with the inevitable stresses of the job.

Because Texas A&M University is an educational institution, Honey is able to focus on providing leadership opportunities, teaching transferable skills, and setting learning outcomes for positions. This emphasis on student development is a determining factor for the student workers who stick with the position for several years. These workers experience growth that is quantified and individually tailored through set learning outcomes, guided reflection, and performance evaluation. Acknowledging the aquatics industry is under-staffed, Honey embraces the challenge: “We contend with workforce challenges by setting clear and reasonable expectations, assembling diverse teams, and promoting professional development for our aquatic workers.”

Working for a Purpose

TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY Pool Manager, Thomas Rockwood

Like many employees, Thomas Rockwood, Pool Manager for Cassie Mae Honey, views his job as an extension of himself and wants to create an impact that extends beyond his personal role at work or daily duties. Even at 14, Rockwood was looking to make an impact. At first, he was simply a teenager looking for someone that would hire him at a young age. “Lucky for me, my local pool was hiring an assistant swim instructor for their preschool swim lessons program. At the time I saw it as glorified babysitting in the water. At 14, I could not wait to be 16 so I could sit in the lifeguard chair, watch other 14-year-olds teach toddlers how to blow bubbles in the pool…and do a job that mattered, make an impact, and serve my community.”

At 16 he was old enough to get a job anywhere, but was still looking to fulfill this sense of purpose. Rockwood invested $200 dollars of his summer savings to achieve his goal of becoming a lifeguard. Once he turned 18 and moved off to college, he was still insistent about having an impactful job. He took on more responsibility. “I still worked in the aquatic industry in a lifeguarding role, but I noticed that I could not only have an impact on the patrons at my pool but also the people I work alongside. That’s when I began to take steps to transition out of lifeguarding and into more management roles.”

Since making the transition into aquatics management almost four years ago, Rockwood has had the opportunity to wear many hats within an aquatic facility, overcome challenges, and develop himself, as well as others. Throughout his progression, he has been tempted to take jobs in other fields simply because their entry level positions paid more than his management level position, not to mention the reduction in stress that would accompany the increase in pay. His reason for staying? “I did not take up other, more lucrative, less stressful opportunities because I enjoyed the people I worked with and found happiness in developing my employees.”

Promoting Strengths

PROPER pH Pools Owners, Bob and Shira Barzilay

The seasonality of the pool industry adds another layer of complexity to workforce retention. Staff gear up to work very hard for a few months of the year and then scale back during other times. At Proper pH, some of the Barzilays’ core staff have been with them 18 years because they feel valued and enjoy the work. Two of Proper pH’s top employees started as a receptionist and pool cleaner, respectively, and worked their way up.  Growth was not always easy, they said, but they embraced the training offered over the years and grew into new responsibilities each year. There were times when they needed to be pushed a little harder, such as when they lost faith in themselves, but they always trusted the Barzilays’ intentions and chose growth. As for the rest of the Proper pH staff, with these two serving as leaders of the organization, the rest of the team sees the possibility and opportunity available to each of them.

Knowing the new workplace culture is strengths-based, the Barzilays capitalize on their team’s ability to take initiative, follow directions, communicate, maintain flexibility, and support teamwork. “The culture of our company is to focus on each individual’s strengths rather than weaknesses,” says Bob Barzilay. “We know that today’s workforce measures success by setting and achieving goals, and that every employee is unique and different. When an employee shows an interest or strength in a specific area, we help cultivate that in any way we can.  We help our employees set goals based on what they want and where they want to go.”

When it comes to training, the Barzilays don’t worry about staff taking advantage of the educational opportunities to become their competition. “We believe that education delivers mutually beneficial growth for the industry. Even if they do choose to work elsewhere or for themselves, at least they will be doing things correctly and representing the industry as a professional,” the Barzilays maintain. To quote Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better.”

Finding Value

PROPER pH Pools Chief of Operations, Ursula Kristofich

Ursula Kristofich had always made it a priority to maintain a strong work ethic, and as young adult with a few years of office management under her belt she began searching for her next job. Kristofich was offered two positions with similar pay and benefits: One position in the office of a large food service business, and the other in the office of a growing family-owned pool company. In weighing the choices, she considered the differences in the interviews, interviewers, company ethics and goals, as well as the option to learn. “My interview with Proper pH was unlike any other,” she recounts. “I could hear and feel the passion for the company throughout our meeting, and not just a passion for pools—we actually spoke very little about pools.” After her hire, every time she saw the owners, and by extension the company, practicing and implementing the highest business ethics in the hardest situations, her respect, dedication, and loyalty to the organization grew.

Initially not passionate about pools, her interest and excitement grew through creating refined systems, resolving problems, increasing efficiency, and developing creative functionality. Kristofich was provided with space and freedom to suggest and implement new systems and ideas, and knew her ideas would be taken into consideration and applied if they fit the needs of the company, clients, and fellow employees. She was awarded new responsibilities, privileges, and benefits based on her interests and strengths, and was encouraged to take classes, attend trade shows, ask questions and challenge her own limitations.

Kristofich gives one main reason for having worked towards long-term employment with Proper pH Pools. “The most important personal aspect of my career is fulfilled in this organization: Knowing I am valued as a person and team member.” This is not only evidenced by pay increases. Kristofich sees value in the opportunities she is provided, in the way her personal needs are treated with consideration and understanding, and in the scheduling flexibility she’s given for life situations. She has been offered access to financial management, as well as health and wellness benefits, all of which enable her to set and meet goals. “Knowing the company is just as invested in my success as I am is incredibly motivating,” Kristofich says. “I know I work hard for a company that works just as hard for me, and at the end of the day that feels good.”

Identifying Potential

DRAKELEY POOL COMPANY Principal and Founder, Bill Drakeley

With so much responsibility on the shoulders of pool building companies, naturally they are looking for competent staff to provide the necessary support. It’s a common assumption that workers with construction backgrounds are best suited for this type of job. While that certainly is favorable, according to Bill Drakeley, Principal and Founder of Drakeley Pools, it is far more important to find someone coachable with the right temperament and aptitude. It is more beneficial to identify potential: Who can rise into the position, rather than who has had direct experience in pool construction. In fact, Drakeley believes it is in many ways better to source a staff person without field-specific experience because employers avoid having to unteach bad habits or methods that don’t jive with the company philosophy and procedures.

For example, Drakeley has worked with his current foreman for more than 25 years. Fifteen years ago, the foreman joined Drakeley’s company. This individual has now worked in every single phase of the construction process, a key asset for anyone in the foreman’s role. Because it takes years to gain the necessary acumen, it is crucial to have a line of succession in which there are others in the pipeline learning the details of pool construction. With each day on the jobsite, and with proper coaching, these staff are growing more and more prepared to one day take up a leadership position.

Perhaps tougher than finding capable staff who meet these qualifications is keeping them. Pool builders often express concern about training employees only to have them strike out on their own and become competitors. “My experience,” says Drakeley, “has taught me that this is not necessarily a huge concern if you do a couple of things right.” First, he says, because leaders are so important and hard to find, they need to be paid a rate or salary, with regular increases when possible, that reflects their value to the company. Second, a generous benefits package and personal use of company equipment, as needed, are also important measures in letting top employees know that they are valued. These considerations very often result in each staff member’s becoming an invaluable partner to the employer, and the backbone of the business, rather than becoming a source of worry.

Following Excellence

DRAKELEY POOL COMPANY Office Manager, Kerri Allmer

Kerri Allmer, Drakeley’s Office Manager, reflects on her own experience of transitioning from her ten-year tenure at a software company to this new endeavor at Drakeley Pools. “I wasn’t sure what line of work I was looking for, but I did know what type of environment I was looking for. As someone who had dedicated a decade to a fast-growing and innovative organization, I knew that the best companies benefit from a team of people who are ‘in it for the long haul.’” Her finding a firm with a staff of employees that had been with the company since inception almost twenty years ago was a huge selling point. This level of retention indicated that the team believed in what they were doing, enjoyed their work, and were appreciated by management. This appreciation was also shown in the fact that all team members were featured on the firm’s website, not just the typical management team.

At Drakeley, a two-way line of communication between management and employees fosters a deeper understanding of the company’s goals and expectations of employees, and allows employees to provide invaluable feedback to management regarding their daily tasks, issues they see, and ideas for growth. This culture of open communication provides a diverse perspective for management, and allows all team members to feel like their voice is heard and their input is important and appreciated.

Drakeley’s involvement in the industry, both pool and concrete, was also a major selling point for Allmer. His commitment was evidenced in his dedication to his craft, as well as his passion for the work. That dedication and passion has been infectious to staff and cultivated a positive, enthusiastic environment. As time has progressed, Allmer has continued to be exceptionally proud to be a part of this team. Allmer has been with Drakeley Pool Company for just about two years, and plans to be there for many more. “The company’s investment in key employees through education and training develops confidence and an increased appreciation for the product we are selling and building. This builds enthusiasm and pride in what I’m doing on a daily basis!”

In Review

As evidenced in the pool industry, and in the labor market at large, the workforce is evolving and presenting an opportunity for the workplace to adapt. While today’s workforce challenge may seem daunting and unique to the pool industry, these aquatics directors, pool building firms, and service company owners view the hiring challenge as an opportunity. Their approach is enabling employees at all levels and from all segments of the market to achieve their career aspirations, in spite of the seasonality and stress common to the industry.

Successful employers are adapting their workplace culture to resonate with today’s workforce. They are coaching staff to personal and professional growth, and focusing on building strengths through education. By communicating priorities clearly and valuing staff input, they are creating an atmosphere of transparency. Most importantly, these industry employers are offering their employees a sense of ownership, and the opportunity to engage in the business in a meaningful way to fulfill their desire to make a difference. Together, the industry culture is evolving and creating a solution to provide for the next generation of the workforce.

 

1 Ott, B. (2017, October 2). 3 Reasons Why Performance Development Wins in the Workplace. Retrieved from http://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/220478/why-performance-development-wins-workplace.aspx

 

Special thanks to the following contributors: 

Texas A&M University Assistant Director for Aquatic Operations, Cassie Mae Honey 

Texas A&M University Pool Manager, Thomas Rockwood 

Proper pH Pools Owners, Bob and Shira Barzilay 

Proper pH Pools Chief of Operations, Ursula Kristofich 

Drakeley Pool Company  Principal and Founder, Bill Drakeley 

Drakeley Pool Company Office Manager, Kerri Allmer 

 

Author: Rose Lyda, Director of Marketing, NSPF

Rose Lyda has been a swimmer her whole life, for health and recreation, and as a swim instructor and lifeguard she developed a great appreciation for aquatic safety. An elementary teacher by education, Rose taught in Oregon, Oklahoma, and Moscow, Russia. Subsequently earning a Master of Public Administration, she is engaged civically in the local Colorado Springs community in the non-profit, private, and public sectors. The combination of her education and experience gets put to daily use in directing the Marketing and Product Development of NSPF. A lover of life, Rose enjoys listening to live music and exploring arts and culture. An ideal Saturday is morning yoga in the park, coffee and a visit to the farmers’ market, and then cooking with fresh produce. Rose also loves to travel and always packs a swimsuit!

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