AP NEWS

At $15 an Hour, Tyngsboro Landscaper Can’t Find Enough Workers

May 12, 2019

PELHAM -- The small crew of guys met in Tyngsboro early Wednesday, at their boss’ home. Loaded Andrew Muir’s trucks with weed wackers, three riding mowers, and other equipment before driving together to Pelham.

Their job that morning was outside a single-family Colonial with a spacious yard -- to cut grass, edge garden beds, pull weeds, and sprinkle fresh coats of black mulch.

The day was shaping up to be a good one for Muir because he had help. That’s hard to come by. Muir, who is in his fifth year of owning Andrew P. Muir Landscaping, is aching for more employees to meet the demands of customers.

Word of mouth. Facebook ads. Indeed.com . Craigslist. Muir said he’s tried them all to find seasonal workers.

“Nobody wants to do this kind of work anymore,” said Muir, 24. “I know a lot of other companies that are also struggling.”

Shortly before 10 a.m., Muir trimmed around trees with a weed wacker in the backyard. Thin grass blades covered his black-and-grey Nikes. The buzz of other equipment permeated the air as his workers concentrated on different tasks around the property.

Worry tugged at Muir’s mind. Spring is the busiest time for his landscaping company. He said he has enough gigs for three crews, but can only assemble one. There was a backlog last week of about 100 lawn cut jobs.

“It’s just getting worse and worse. Some days I only have one person that shows up,” Muir said. “It hurts my business because I have a lot of customers that want us, you know? That want us to do the work. We can’t keep up.”

At first, Muir said he was looking for experienced workers. He’s now willing to accept anyone willing to put in the labor. He’ll train you. The starting pay at $15 an hour is decent, Muir added.

“Because of the low unemployment rate -- in the Greater Lowell region it’s 3 percent as of March -- we’re seeing all industries having trouble finding talent,” said Peter Farkas, executive director of the MassHire Greater Lowell Workforce Board which covers Tyngsboro and other communities including Dracut, Lowell, and Tewksbury. “The top industries that have the most job openings in the region are healthcare and social assistance, advanced manufacturing, and IT jobs.”

Farkas said the unemployment rate in Tyngsboro is even lower, at 2.6 percent.

The MassHire Greater Lowell Workforce Board is part of the commonwealth’s workforce development system under the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The workforce board oversees the MassHire Lowell Career Center, which provides a variety of services to both jobseekers and employers.

Though Muir’s company operates year-round, the business owner said he’s in special need of seasonal workers from April 1 through the end of December. According to Farkas, seasonal positions are generally more difficult to fill when there’s low employment.

“In school, they push everybody for college and not this kind of work,” Muir said.

Muir never went to college. He graduated in 2013 from Greater Lowell Technical High School, where he concentrated in masonry. Nicholi Balakin, one of Muir’s crew members, also attended Greater Lowell. He graduated in 2012 and has been working for Muir for about two years.

To do this job, Balakin said, you need to be motivated and constantly moving.

“We got people that will show up maybe two times a week and we really can’t do anything if there’s two guys,” the 25-year-old Tyngsboro resident said. “It’s hard to find somebody loyal, that wants to stay here.”

Over on one side of the property was Zack Cook, 20. The Dracut resident knelt beside a garden bed and pulled out weeds before dumping them into a red plastic garbage can. Cook said he learned Muir was hiring through a Facebook ad. He used to work a lot of side gigs in masonry.

“It’s hard work but you’re outside 24/7. It’s what most people like,” Cook said. “A lot of kids don’t like to get their hands dirty.”

Cook gestured at his own caked in dirt. He finds the work rewarding.

“Looking at the house and making it look nice is pretty much the ultimate goal,” Cook said. “You want to see a house pop.”

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.