Recruiting and retaining qualified employees is such a critical issue for the equipment and event rental industry that the American Rental Association (ARA) has made that a key initiative under its strategic plan. During the height of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, some plans had to be modified, but never did it stop ARA from moving full steam ahead on its workforce development efforts.
The reason is simple: “The need is still there,” says Tony Conant, ARA CEO.
“There was a need during the pandemic and that need has just grown since states have started easing COVID restrictions,” he says. “The common theme I hear from rental operators in just about every corner of the rental industry is that the labor market is incredibly tight. The good news is that now almost every rental store operation is doing better than last year. The bad news is that most could be doing even better if they had more staff.”
Event rental operators, who were severely impacted by the pandemic, are trying to catch up and find employees to handle the demand that has erupted as more states start to lift COVID-related restrictions, notes James Auerbach, ARA vice president, event segment.
“In May, the live event industry saw a relaxing of restrictions. Almost overnight, the phones started ringing again at event rental companies with new customers inquiring about social and corporate events. For many event rental companies that had experienced more than a year of lost revenue, this was incredibly positive. But with the increase in rental inquiries also came the need for additional employees to successfully process, deliver, install and manage,” he says.
“We quickly realized that there was going to be a massive shortage of available full-time and temporary labor. Due to this industry-wide shortage, many event rental companies have been forced to turn away much-needed revenue due to the inability to hire enough employees to manage the incoming orders. This is incredibly frustrating after a brutal year that saw many event rental companies lose 50 to 90 percent of their annual revenue,” he adds.
The equipment side of the aisle is feeling it too after most of the country experienced a good spring, adds Josh Nickell, ARA vice president, equipment segment.
“The equipment segment was steady last year and cautious about staffing. This spring got off to a great start for most, and rental operators are struggling to meet demand with their current staffing levels. In addition to wanting to bring on new team members, they need to continue to upskill their current staff,” he says.
To address this, ARA quickly pivoted from in-person job fairs during COVID-19 to create a brand-new rental-specific ARA Job Board. “We launched this in April. It is the place to drive job seekers when we attract them to either our RentalWorks website, ARArentalworks.com, or a future job fair,” Conant says. “To help connect job seekers with rental employers, we also are offering ARA members the ability to post five free job postings on the site, too. We also have fortified the job board through partnerships with CareerBuilder and state and local job boards as well as Google and Facebook jobs. In addition, all jobs posted are being pushed out to military.com, a job board universally used by those transitioning out of the military services, and to the schools ARA has developed relationships with,” Conant says.
“There is a great fit between military and jobs in the rental industry,” says Tom Doyle, ARA vice president, program development. “The pipeline is ripe for rental to be able to jump in. Manufacturers and some of the other larger rental companies are tapping in as well. We also have received positive comments from the schools about putting their soon-to-be graduates’ résumés on the job board.”
That effort is paying off.
“So far we have generated more than 5,000 users a month from our AdWords traffic alone and have more than 3,000 job postings,” Conant says.
Another significant workforce development initiative is the new ARA national awareness campaign.
“While most people are aware of the rental concept, many do not fully comprehend the breadth of the industry. We know that if you do not understand the industry, you certainly are not thinking about it as a career option. We are promoting the industry and showing via videos, programmatic banner ads, Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, public relations efforts and more, as well as direct contacts with technical and trade schools, that rental is a dynamic place to build a career,” Conant says.
The initial outlay of this campaign started last year with the launch of the Clean. Safe. Essential. (C.S.E.) program. “It was our way of letting the general public know that the rental industry is serious about health and safety. But this was simply an entry point. The intention has always been to develop a campaign that helps people understand the rental value proposition,” he says.
In addition to the job board and the national awareness campaign, ARA is:
Sharing the industry’s career possibilities with students, educators and other influencers. “We are developing resources for ARA members that they can use to attract and retain qualified team members. Those myriad resources — including how to hire, how to retain and reward, how to onboard, recruitment documents, and party and event and construction and general tool job descriptions — can be found in the ‘Industry Workforce’ section of ARArental.org,” Conant says.
Taking part in virtual job fairs. “While in-person job fairs were on hold, ARA staff have been taking part in virtual job fairs,” says Keith Pearson, ARA human resources director. “The goal is to eventually bring virtual rental career fairs to our members. Right now, we are investigating the technology we need to have a successful virtual career fair.”
Reaching out to trade/tech schools/event programs. ARA has made a concerted effort to not only identify technical, trade and event rental programs but also to connect with them.
“It is imperative that students understand the opportunities in rental early on in their programs so we stand a better chance at getting them once they graduate,” Conant says.
At The ARA Show™ 2020 in Orlando, ARA offered a very successful first — the “Rental Works for Your Future” outreach sessions, which brought in educators from surrounding trade and technical schools as well as hundreds of their students. “We came out of Orlando with high momentum from the schools, associations and the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers]. We want to build on that,” Pearson says.
For the 2021 show in Las Vegas, the goal is to bring students from post-secondary schools in for a floor tour and to discover rental careers. “We want to bring in educators from schools, not only from Nevada but also from California, Arizona and other Western states. We are looking at bringing them in for a short introduction to rental and then have them walk the show floor and come back together for a Q&A session. We want to focus on building a partnership with these schools,” he says.
Talks are underway for a “pre-packaged” virtual show tour that educators could share with their students too, offering even more insight to the types of equipment students could work on when they join the industry, Pearson says.
In addition to the opportunities at the show, ARA staff are meeting with educators and personnel at various trade and technical schools about incorporating rental into their existing technical curriculum. “They are excited about the rental industry and how it gives their students additional employment options,” he says.
ARA also is looking into developing partnership programs with equipment manufacturers to loan or donate their equipment to these schools. “This would allow students to train on that equipment in school so they would be fully versed in this new technology and be ready to work on this equipment at any rental store with diesel equipment for example,” Pearson says.
But the focus goes beyond post-secondary schools. “We also are looking at connecting with high schools to let them know about the rental concept and the careers that rental can offer them,” he says.
Offering ARA student memberships. ARA is exploring the development of a separate association membership for students. “If students could be members, they would be able to take advantage of the educational opportunities and career development offerings available through RentalU and the ARA Job Board,” Pearson says.
Creating mentorships. Hand-in-hand with these other efforts, ARA also has initiated a mentorship program, starting with a pilot program for ARA members and then incorporating students into the mix so they can have a better feel for what the industry is and the career possibilities it offers, Pearson notes.
Helping rental operators retain their current staff. “We are focused on growing and impacting rental store employees at all stages, from entering the workforce as a young rental professional to top-level management,” Nickell says. “Programs like the heavily trafficked job board and Young Professional Network (YPN) groups encourage the success of younger staff. RentalU, our educational platform, is well-poised to help simplify onboarding followed by continuing education to upskill team members throughout their career while the job board gives them more opportunities to stay within the rental industry. In addition, certificate and certification programs like Clean. Safe. Essential., the Professional Driver Education Program and the upcoming equipment certification help to provide distinguished milestones during their career.”
Nickell, who spent years working at his family’s rental operation, knows these efforts will offer tremendous help to all rental operations, no matter what area of the industry they cater to.
“A lot of ARA’s efforts are being targeted at finding the right people, connecting with them and building awareness of rental. ARA is and needs to be that connector that is generating awareness. It is much easier for the association to be out there promoting that idea and teaching people about what it is and why it is such a great career path. The rest is following through and connecting all of that to the great rental companies that are part of this industry. Because once you get into the industry, you have incredible job flexibility. If you have that experience, it is specific and it is rare. You could go anywhere in the country and stay in the equipment rental industry. That is what is so nice about the new job board and how it connects individuals. We want to create the awareness and make it easy for them to not only come into the industry but also stay and grow in it,” he says.