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1106 PD: Locating and hiring farm employees

Jim Henion Published on 10 November 2006

Whenever farm owners and managers get together, the conversation often turns to the topic of recruiting and hiring of employees. As we traveled the country to visit with managers and discuss their supervisory practices, we asked them to describe the different ways they locate new employees. Managers report a variety of ways they recruit, hire and place new workers.

Where to find workers
•Advertising and word of mouth

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Most managers report advertising as their least preferred method of locating new employees. Dan DeRuyter of DeRuyter and Sons Dairy in Outlook, Washington, tells us, “I hate to say this, but I think a lot of people who look for jobs in the paper tend to be unemployable.”

Rod Hissong of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, comments: “We usually just ask around among the people we know in the area. We have approached individuals who already had jobs in manufacturing but had an ag background. We talked to them because we thought they might have an interest in returning to agriculture. We generally find most of our new employees by talking to people we know.”

•Recommendations from current employees
Most farm managers report their best source of new workers are recommendations from current employees. Art Marquez of Chino, California, suggests managers visit with their employees who “know how you like to have things done.” He recommends managers ask, “Do you know of anybody who is looking for a job who might be a good fit on this dairy?”

Jon Wheeler of Oord Dairy in Sunnyside, Washington, adds, “The people who work for us don’t want to hire deadweight. They will not recommend the hiring of people who are going to cause them grief or extra work.”

•Re-recruit your best performers
One of the most important factors to remember when recruiting workers is to make sure you hold onto the good people you already have. Dan DeRuyter tells us, “At best, hiring is a ‘hit and miss’ process. When you have a good employee already working for you, make sure you do everything possible to keep him or her. Let him or her know they are doing a good job. Let them know they are valued and appreciated.”

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You’ll never find what you’re not looking for
Mark Mayo of Mayo’s Dairy in Le Grande, California, knows what he’s looking for when interviewing new people to join his farm team. He says, “When it comes to identifying quality people to work on our farm, I hire people based on what I call ‘the three C’s.’ These include character, competence and chemistry.”

•Character
When describing what he means by character, John Noble of the Linwood Management Group in Linwood, New York, tells us, “We like to hire people that are ‘dead square.’ By that I mean people that are open and honest.”

Mayo continues, “If you are a person of character, you’ll act the same whether you’re at work, at home or out in the community. I give character a weight of 80 percent because character is very difficult to teach.”

•Competence
Rod Hissong tells us, “Knowledge and experience are important, but what we want most is a person who has that fire within to always be willing to learn and get better. They will pick up on the things they need to know to succeed in the job, if they are willing to learn.”

Hank Wagner of Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, adds, “What I look for most is a teachable spirit and a hunger to learn.”

•Chemistry
Commenting on chemistry, Joe Stewart of Nampa, Idaho, tells us, “You can have a sharp individual with a lot of knowledge, a good work ethic and who is honest and straight forward. But if he’s a troublemaker and either can’t or is unwilling to work with others on the team, he can stir up our other 13 people.”

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Interviewing is not an exact science
Even when you have a good idea of the qualities you’re looking for, it’s always a challenge to determine which job candidates actually possess the desired characteristics. Sean Jones of Massey, Delaware, comments, “The interview process is very imperfect. We have interviewed people we felt really good about and then find out after they come to work that hiring them was a mistake. I have learned I need to take a little more time in preparing for the interview.”

Rod Hissong agrees. He tells us, “When I interview a new person for a key job, I like to give them a tour and walk around the dairy. When I hired our herdsman, we spent four or five hours together. It’s hard for people to put up a false front for that long. You need to ask the right questions and have your ‘detector’ on to pick up when people might be telling you what they think you want to hear. It just takes time to get to know a person. If you spend enough time with them, you will know if they are the right fit.”

Place people in positions where they can perform
Many supervisors assume once they have located and hired people with the “right” characteristics, their job is done. Increasingly, however, managers have learned they need to carefully monitor progress of the new employee to make sure they are placed in jobs where they can do their best work.

John Noble comments, “In our business, we’re trying to hire good, bright people and not ‘pigeon hole’ them into specific jobs or define a career around that job. You just can’t know from an hour (or even a 10-hour) interview what will ultimately be the best position for the new person. You have to work with them and find out their strengths and weaknesses and then slowly mold a position for that person that will enable them to succeed.”

Mark Mayo adds, “I find when a person is not performing the way he should, it’s because we have not been able to define their area of passion. For example, some people just love to work with machinery. They would much rather do field work and not have to work with cows. It’s important to work with a person’s natural interests and passion. If they love what they’re doing, they will get really good at it. They will work hard at getting better because they want to keep that spot.

“Sometimes, we will reshuffle the job descriptions so people can work in the areas where they have passion. What I try and do is define areas where the employee’s passion fits what it is they are doing.”

Rod Hissong concludes, “One of the advantages of being a larger dairy is you can allow people to work in an area of their interest. You have to place people in positions that match their personality and where they can perform their best work.” PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request.

—From Horizons, February 2006

Jim Henion, Director of Consulting Services, Cooperative Resources International

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