Every contracting business has its issues - the part of the business that if only they could solve it everything else would fall into place. For contract sweepers that issue is arguably operator hiring and productivity because, unlike the paving or sealcoating crews that operate during the day and in groups, sweeping requires a person with special characteristics to tackle that job - and handle that lifestyle - successfully.
Scott Graby, founder and president of 25-year-old Hearthstone Property Services, Murfreesboro, TN, says his company has figured out some unorthodox, but surprisingly effective ways to identify, hire, monitor, compensate, and retain quality sweeper operators.
Hiring and Screening
Graby says Hearthstone has developed an approach to finding and screening sweeper operators that has proved very effective over the years and has been cost effective as well. The process begins with ads placed on the Craigslist website as opposed to running in newspapers.
"We put a detailed description of the job on Craigslist, and we couldn't do that in a newspaper," he says. "In a newspaper we couldn't put enough detail in the ad because of the cost, where on Craigslist we can tell them exactly what we want to tell them and exactly what the job is going to be like. That's the first level of screening because a lot of people read it and decide right there it's not for them."
The next step for an applicant is to complete an online application and a personality assessment. These are accessed through the Hearthstone website and are sent in via e-mail. Graby says one real advantage of this process is that to this point the company has spent almost zero dollars seeking an employee.
"First, we remove the ones with questionable applications, such as having a DUI or a criminal record, lack of reliable transportation, short job histories, and 'fuzzy reasons' for leaving past jobs."
Then Hearthstone evaluates the personality test. "We've done baseline testing on our best drivers so we simply look for the test results that match the baseline.
"It's an unusual type of job that takes a special breed of person who can take pride in doing good work year after year. It's done late at night, the driver is all alone, it's not ideal for a 'people person,' and this test does a great job of identifying the type of person who might be successful operating a sweeper. In fact, only 20% of the applications make it past this point."
Graby says that if the assessment looks good Hearthstone then calls the references and if those check out they invite the applicant in. If he passes the interview stage, the applicant then rides with the supervisor for two or three hours one night to finalize the decision. Graby stresses that the applicant doesn't do any work on this ride, he just listens to the supervisor and gets to see first-hand what the job entails as the supervisor sweeps a number of parking lots.
"We don't pay them for that ride, and that's all in the application up front," Graby says. "We don't pay them any money until we think they can do it because until you get them out there in the truck and on the job they really don't know what's involved. They get to see that you're alone, that it's emptying trash cans and blowing curb lines, and that it's dirty work."
He says that after that night about half the applicants either turn the job down or are turned away by the supervisor. "After two or three hours it's usually obvious if the applicant 'gets it' or not. We're actually trying to talk them out of the job during the ridealong, knowing that the drivers who fit best won't be scared off. And the ones we can scare off would have dropped out anyway."
Sweeping Is Phased In
Graby says Hearthstone took a slightly different route into the sweeping and pavement maintenance industry, starting out in 1985 cleaning offices. Gradually, the company moved into parking lot sweeping then eventually added landscaping, general maintenance, infrared patching, and interior construction.