January 3, 2018

Grasp Differences Between Generations to Master Labor Management

 |  By: Meg Gaige

Recruiting employees for your farm has never been tougher and it will get worse, says long-time head hunter Dan Simmons, of Oceanview, Del. But if you can figure out how to bridge the generational divide, your dairy will thrive as we approach the 2020s. Here’s how to get it done.

First, realize the generation in which you came of age frames your point of view. Baby boomers communicate differently than Gen Xers (email versus text). Gen Xers will hold different values about a job than later millennials (life balance versus passion to make a difference). Gen Zers (ages 2 to 20) are more influenced by social media than anything else.

Next, scrutinize how you market the employment opportunities on your dairy. Unless you speak to what fires up these talented, creative potential employees and connect with them “where they live,” you will continue to suffer from what Simmons calls “employment dysfunction”— a malady of national scope.

Strive to be the workplace of choice. To excel in labor management in this time and culture you must:

  • Write job descriptions that clearly detail the work to be done.
  • Create formal training, onboarding, and retraining programs.
  • Articulate your farm’s management style and goals and share them online via website, Facebook and YouTube.
  • Provide much more frequent performance feedback—30 seconds here and there pays off in spades.
  • Share why you’re in business so staff can find meaning and purpose in the work they do.
  • Encourage employees to bring their fresh ideas to the table.
  • Create interest by hiring a young person to make and post videos of workers in action on your farm. These can become part of job descriptions and could be viewed by job seekers online.
  • Make regular posts to a Facebook page that show off the unique world that is farming—the baby calves, the tech-y equipment.
  • Recruit military veterans.
  • Check out work release programs from local jails.
  • Try out day labor from temp agencies. If they don’t work out you can fire them with a single phone call.
  • Hire a sharp local human resources manager (@ $50-$75/hr.) to make quick work of writing better job descriptions.
  • Establish $500 referral bonuses for workers who bring in newbies who stay on the job for at least 90 days.
  • Ask preachers of the poorest churches in your county to recommend the best workers from their flock and if they stay on the job for 90 days, drop $250 into the offering plate.
  • Simplify jobs, create part-time positions and internships to be filled by students from the local community college.
  • Make it clear from the outset that after they’ve mastered one set of skills, there will be another more advanced set to tackle, with small regular raises at each level.
  • Offer a retention bonus for any employee who stays on the job for 36 months.
  • Offer on-site training during lunch once a month by bringing in someone from your consulting team to teach employees more about WHY you do what you do. It’ll only cost you the price of the meal.
  • Worry a little less about offering health insurance and retirement.
  • Worry a little more about providing steps on a career path instead of offering just a job.
  • Plan for turnover, expecting few workers to stay more than three years.
  • Find out what the competition is paying for comparable positions and beat it.

Does this vision make you squirm? Simmons’ 14 years of experience recruiting workers for ag businesses that support farms reveal how many ways employers aren’t on the same wavelength with today’s job seekers. He also recently surveyed students participating in the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge program and a group of dairy producers about employment. Some of the results are bound to surprise you.

New year—new tactics. Waste no time testing out some new labor-friendly tactics you’ve never tried—or even imagined— before.