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John Reitman

By John Reitman

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Labor crunch is not just a golf problem

How many Washington politicians does it take to solve a problem? No one knows: They've never solved one."


To say the golf industry is facing a labor crisis is as obvious as pointing out that the game needs more players.

Josh Saunders would like to hire local workers at the Longue Vue Club in Pennsylvania, if only he could find them. Photo by John ReitmanWhether it's finding enough interns, AITs or just hourly employees to mow fairways and rake bunkers, it seems like most superintendents are having a difficult time finding, hiring and/or retaining enough help. 
A shortage of labor is not a private club problem and it's not a daily fee problem. It's not a west coast problem or an east coast problem. It's just a problem, and it's not just limited to golf. Washington is in a unique position to help - with at least some of this problem - but don't hold your breath.
According to the New York Times, there were more than 50 teenagers in the labor force for every fast-food restaurant 25 years ago. While the number of restaurants in the marketplace has ballooned by more than 40 percent since then, the number of available workers seeking employment has been cut in half.
A Federal Reserve survey indicates that construction, retail, healthcare and agriculture are industries struggling to find enough help.
In 2000, about 45 percent of teenagers between 16-19 were employed. Today, only about 30 percent of eligible teens have a job.
Sounds a lot like the golf business, where a shortage of applicants has led many superintendents to lean on seasonal help through the H2B program.
Josh Saunders has been hiring temporary workers through the H2B program for the past five years at Longue Vue Club in Verona, Pennsylvania, mostly out of necessity.
He runs ads in the classified section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette not only to comply with H2B regulations, but genuinely in hopes of attracting local workers.
"I would love to hire Pittsburghers. The problem is, no one wants to do this work anymore," Saunders said. 
"I post ads and go through interviews, but people don't want to commit to the hours, they don't want to work weekends, and where we are, the opioid issue is a big deal. I would ask people, can you pass a drug test?' because that is a prerequisite of working here, and I'd watch as people would get up and walk right out."
Some newspapers have recognized that employers are facing a labor crunch and have increased the cost of classified advertising exponentially.
Pat O'Brien, superintendent at Hyde Park Golf and Country Club in Cincinnati said the same help-wanted classifieds that once cost him $600 just a few years ago now cost $4,500.
"It's just another piece to the puzzle," O'Brien said. 
His luck in attracting local talent through the paper is about on par with Saunders'.
"In four years, I've had just one applicant for an interview," he said. "Nobody (here) wants to do this work. There is a need for temporary seasonal labor."

I would love to hire Pittsburghers. The problem is, no one wants to do this work anymore."


Even for those who apply for seasonal workers, there is no guarantee they will get them. The number of requests the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service receives routinely exceeds the cap of 66,000 workers with 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year (October 1 - March 31) and 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the second half of the fiscal year (April 1 - September 30). USCIS stopped accepting petitions in February.
With those petitions for seasonal help approved on a lottery system this year, even some of those who have crossed all their T's and dotted all their I's found themselves on the outside looking in.
"The process is getting harder and harder and harder," Saunders said.
Doug Norwell at Camargo Country Club in Cincinnati experienced a five-week delay in getting his seasonal help this year.
"I like the guys we get. They are fantastic," Norwell said. "I don't enjoy the process. I do it because I have to. We have a serious lack of workers.
"The work is not going to get done otherwise. No one is applying for those jobs."
The need for hard-to-get seasonal H2B employment isn't limited to golf.
On June 5, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arrested 114 undocumented workers at two Corso's Landscape locations in northern Ohio. A raid of a Tennessee meatpacking facility in April netted a similar number of arrests. 
Investigations into employers suspected of hiring undocumented workers were up about 60 percent in 2017 compared with 2016.
While the current administration's view on immigration policy and Congress's perpetual inertia at drafting comprehensive legislation is another topic for another day, the above examples help illustrate the fact that there are more unskilled, low-paying jobs in the U.S. than there are legal candidates (either U.S. citizens or guest workers) willing or able to fill them.
And that is something Washington can't ignore, or at least shouldn't

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