18th June, 2018
Farmers have some of the same challenges as any employer when it comes to hiring people – how do you make the job attractive to the kind of person you want doing it?
But farmers also have some unique circumstances that can make it even more difficult for them to hire. Often the work is seasonal or short-term. Location can also be an issue, especially in remote areas. And then telecommunications coverage isn’t always as good as it is in the cities.
Agriculture is the backbone of the economy, and farmers are one of the greatest sources of innovation. Here are three tips that innovative farmers have shared that help them attract and keep the people they need to get the job done.
A farming friend of mine put this really simply and wonderfully: “New gear doesn’t break down and is easier to use, so workers like that”. Everybody loves working with tools that make getting the job done easier, whether that tool is a good piece of software, or a backhoe! Given the choice of doing the same job with good tools or with poor tools, it is natural that workers will choose a situation where using the tools of the job doesn’t cause them grief and frustration.
About 10 years ago, we took a group of South American farmers to visit a dairy farm in the Waikato. This farm was an early adopter of on-farm technology; automated milking machinery was paired with RFID eartags, real-time temperature monitoring of milk storage vats with alerting and so on. It was a really impressive operation with demonstrable gains in both productivity and quality.
I asked the owner. “What was the thing that surprised you the most when you put this stuff on your farm?” He thought for a moment and replied, “I guess the thing I was most surprised about was how much easier it made it to find workers.
“They tell me that they find the technology aspect of our operation really interesting, so it makes working here more interesting for them.”
Also, don’t forget about your own shopfront. If you have a farm, do you have a farm website or Facebook page? If you do, have someone else look at it from the perspective of someone thinking about working at your farm. Is it inviting? Does it look like the kind of business you’d want to be part of?
Telecommunications is always expensive and challenging in rural areas, so if you’ve made the investment to get good internet connections to your house and office, please also make sure that that connectivity is available in your farm workers’ accommodation and working area. They will really appreciate the effort you make to keep them connected.
There’s just one caveat to all this tech talk: don’t introduce technology for its own sake! It always needs to relate to the primary job of your business and getting work done.
Just like in any other sector, agriculture workers look for situations that best balance their financial needs with the other things that are important to them in their lives. To get the edge in hiring, take the time to really understand the things that are important to them outside of work, then find ways to support them in those areas of interest.
Supporting these things probably won’t cost you much money, but in their minds your workers will place a high value on them. Maybe it’s an afternoon off to go to town for a concert they’ve been dying to go to. Maybe you can arrange some discounts for things they buy regularly. Perhaps they aspire to be a farm manager – make a plan with them to occasionally shadow your work and learn more about what it will take for them to make that move.
It takes a little more effort to make your business more attractive to a worker. But the effort it takes to understand what they want and need through working at your place will pay off for both of you.
As the business owner or manager you’ll gain a deeper insight into your staff and what motivates them, which will yield potential productivity gains. Even better, your workers will know you’re genuinely interested in their lifestyles and that you support their goals.
The final result can only be a more enjoyable workplace for all involved.