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How to manage a changing workforce

Becky Rodriguez for Progressive Dairy Published on 17 July 2019

“The only constant in life is change” is a quote credited to Greek philosopher Heraclitus that is especially relevant in today’s dairy industry. Not only is the dairy industry changing in general, but you may notice day-to-day life on the farm seems to always be changing as well.

For many farmers, one of the more visible places where change is ever-present is in their list of current employees. Turnover is inevitable – and while there are many things you can do to help reduce turnover, your best bet is to develop solid policies so your farm can continue running efficiently throughout the constant changes of dairy life. 

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In order to combat an ever-changing workforce, it is critical to develop a solid training program and standard operating procedures (SOPs). SOPs are a vital building block of any training program. The goal of a good SOP is to provide a clear, specific outline of what is involved with a particular task. For example, a milking SOP would include a step-by-step process of your milking program from the start of a milking shift, to the milking procedure itself, to the cleaning of equipment and ending of the shift (and everything in between). The reason clear and concise SOPs are so important in your training program is, ultimately, to establish consistency. If it is spelled out very clearly how a specific job is to be done, it will make your training program much easier to implement, as well as ensuring that no matter who is completing the task, it will be done in the same manner as the last person.

An SOP can be as basic or detailed as you would like it to be. There are no hard and fast rules; find what works for you and your farm. This may be a simple one-page rundown of your milking procedure, to a multipage breakdown of caring for a calf upon birth. First, understand who is going to be completing this job, and then decide to what detail you would like to expand upon it in the SOP. Once you have created SOPs for your farm’s daily tasks, work with your managers to develop a consistent training program. Whenever you have a new employee start, they should all receive the same training so you know you have consistently taught them the proper way of completing their job duties, allowing them to pick up right where the previous employee left off. Having a written training program, or even a checklist, will help ensure you maintain consistency for all of your employees and for your cows. 

It is important that you work with your managers to continuously develop and review the training program. Be sure to emphasize why it is important the training program is followed faithfully, as well as ensuring they are watching the employees and correcting any bad habits quickly. Your managers will play a key role in helping maintain protocol and consistency for your farm. 

You may not be able to completely eliminate turnover on your farm, but with careful planning and a bit of organization, you can help ensure your farm continues to run efficiently and your cows receive the same excellent level of comfort and care throughout the changes to your staff.  end mark

Becky Rodriguez is with AgriStaff USA. Email Becky Rodriguez.  

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