The success of landscaping companies like ours depends on access to skilled labor. Since in much of the nation, our industry is bound by seasonal cycles, we can only support a limited number of full-time staff on a year-round basis. Like many other companies in the landscape industry, Surrounds relies heavily on seasonal staffing.
The H-2B Guest Worker Visa Program
Each year, we hire workers from Mexico to augment our team so we can respond to the seasonal spike in customer demand for our services. We do this through the H-2B Visa Program with the assistance of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance (NHLA). The H-2B program provides reputable employers in our industry the ability to legally source willing workers for difficult to fill seasonal positions.
Surrounds co-founder and president, Barry Schneider, oversees our guest worker program. For the past four years, he has invited the same eight workers to return April through December. A few of the men have spent five or six years working with our grounds maintenance and landscape construction crews. Why do they come back? For the opportunity to better provide for their families and work in a professional environment with a camaraderie they enjoy as valued team members.
Part of the Family
Schneider regards the guest crew members as part of the Surrounds family. And he means it. We treat them no differently than our other workers.
If there is an emergency back home, we’re the first to say okay let’s get you on a plane. That’s part of our family culture. Barry Schneider, President, Surrounds Landscape Architecture & Construction
Acting with integrity, working hard, working together and treating team members as family—these are core values in the Surrounds company culture, and it holds true for our H-2B Visa Program guest workers as much as it does for our other employees.
We are proud to have a team of honest, hardworking, reliable, trainable workers. We absolutely love them. They are just part of our family. Barry Schneider
Encouraging Business Success
The NHLA has been instrumental in making this happen for us each year. One of the key goals of NHLA mission is to facilitate greater professionalism, continuing education, and leadership training to encourage business success among Hispanics in the landscape industry. The H-2B program is for many Hispanics, an entry point into the industry.
The H-2B visa program isn’t just important to the employer and the seasonal worker, it creates advancement opportunities for US workers including US Hispanics who have the industry knowledge and cultural competency to help train and supervise the foreign seasonal workers, and ensure that they are working most productively and safely. Ralph Egües, Executive Director, National Hispanic Landscape Alliance
In fact, the landscape industry uses more than half the 66,000 visas allowed under the program each year.
The H-2B visa program is an expensive and time-consuming program that involves a lot of paperwork to document the many requirements. To participate, employers must work with multiple federal agencies on tight timelines. They must prove that they cannot recruit enough American workers to fill the seasonal positions they are petitioning to fill with foreign guest workers.
What would it look like for us without the H-2B? Consider this. Each year, we advertise in the Washington Post to solicit applications for the temporary job openings. The announcement also goes to all the Virginia state unemployment offices. In the past four years, we’ve have not been contacted by a single applicant.
Ralph Egues says this is the big problem for landscaping companies nationwide especially those located in regions with shorter growing seasons.
You just can’t staff at that peak level for twelve months out of the year. That’s the problem. And frankly, a lot of Americans don’t want a job that’s going go away even if it’s going to come back. Ralph Egues, NHLA
Egües says he’s heard from landscapers who don’t have access to H-2B workers. They may end up hiring hundreds of people during the season. Some show up for one day, some for two or three days. Others don’t show up at all: “I’ve had companies tell me if they got a guy who would stay for a week it would be a win.” In this situation, quality may deteriorate and customers will be sure to notice.
Instilling Confidence and Inspiring Action
Egües has observed that a lot of Hispanics who come into the industry can’t imagine doing anything more than basic grounds-keeping tasks. The NHLA helps member companies better engage their Hispanic employees to develop their technical, managerial, and leadership skills. It also provides inspiration and education through unique programming.
The advancement opportunities within the landscape industry are significant, but they are not well known. We work with our member companies to make sure that more and more Hispanics see those opportunities; we motivate them to prepare themselves to assume bigger roles, and we develop programs to help them acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to advance. That’s a big part of what we do. Ralph Egües
The NHLA has been a great partner in support of the Surrounds goal of helping our Hispanic team members to develop as professionals so they can contribute to the landscape industry. Our shared values have resulted in the shared success of our business and rewarded our clients with beautiful workmanship.