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Is what you ‘know’ about hiring wrong?

Bob Milligan Published on 30 June 2014

Misunderstanding the changing workforce in this country could be as damaging to your dairy as low milk prices. Below are some comments I hear; please check the ones you think are true:

  • Young people today are not willing to work.
  • I cannot hire locals for dairy farm positions.
  • Local employees have no loyalty and rarely stay for more than a short period.
  • I can always depend on the Hispanic labor force for employees.

Let’s look at each to learn more about today’s workforce and how dairy farm businesses can attract and retain outstanding employees.

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Young people today are not willing to work
This statement needs some adjustment to reflect the attitudes and desires of young people today.

  • Young people today have different attitudes about work compared to their parents and grandparents.
  • Young people today will only work (or stay) at a job that has meaning to them.

The last statement is especially important. You understand the importance of a job that provides meaning. That is likely why you are a dairy farmer. You love what you do. Don’t you want employees who love what they do?

Young people in the workforce today were raised in a world of relative affluence and low unemployment compared to the world of their parents and grandparents. These differences greatly impact their expectations regarding work.

They view working at a job with meaning – a job they love – as a necessity. Older workers tend to view it as a positive but not a necessity. If a job does not provide meaning and growth opportunities, young people are increasingly likely to seek an alternative opportunity.

In other words, young people today are unwilling to work at a job that they do not enjoy (at least on most days). That attitude and resulting actions are very easily interpreted as: “Young people today are not willing to work.”

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The beauty of developing employee management strategies and performance management systems that provide meaning and engagement is that they are win-win. The employee finds the meaningful position they expect; you have a more productive employee with a higher likelihood of staying with your dairy.

How do you do this? First, articulate – write down – what is meaningful to you about your dairy and then communicate, communicate, communicate that to all employees. Second, provide the training and professional development necessary for you and every supervisor at your dairy to be a great supervisor; one that captures the unique attributes of employees to think, to speak, to feel.

I cannot hire locals for dairy farm positions
If you had a cow that dropped in milk production or a crop that looked sickly, what would you do? You would figure out the root cause of the problem and find solutions.

To use that approach with the local labor force, we ask the question, “Why do local employees not apply for or accept dairy farm jobs?” The reality is: Our positions do not attract sufficient numbers of applicants from the local workforce. It is easy, but fruitless, to blame those in the local workforce. Instead we have to focus on what we can control – the positions in the dairy.

Here are some ideas to increase the likelihood of successfully hiring and retaining great local employees:

  • We said above that today’s young employees seek positions that have meaning. The challenge is to articulate this meaning to current and potential employees and create a business culture that reinforces this meaning. This means being clear about the meaning – the vision for the farm – and perhaps more importantly using it when explaining decisions. This is your challenge and a great opportunity.
  • You are successful with cows and crops because you have skills and processes that succeed. Similarly, you need to enhance your skills and processes in supervision and leadership so your farm will be considered a great place to work. We often refer to this as being a preferred employer.
  • The competition for the best employees is fierce and will only get more intense. You are competing with other farm businesses, other family businesses, local employers and large corporations. Some dairy farmers have succeeded in attracting outstanding local employees by developing and using professional-looking recruitment materials and structured selection processes.

The reality about hiring from the local workforce is that it is possible – but only with hard work and excellent human resource processes.

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Local employees have no loyalty and rarely stay for more than a short period
It is true that young employees are much more likely to change positions. At least part of the reason for their often-short job tenure is their search for positions that provide meaning and opportunities for career growth. You can increase the likelihood of young employees making your business a career by implementing the ideas in the section above.

Second, you need to focus your compensation packages, your professional development programs and your career advancement opportunities to appeal to individuals seeking advancement and a career in agriculture. Candidates with this orientation make the best employees. When advancement opportunities become available, you will likely have great internal candidates.

This career focus is a new way of thinking for most farms. It will, however, both be necessary and result in greatly improved job opportunities, job performance and job satisfaction.

I can always depend on the Hispanic labor force for employees
We will likely have immigration reform in the future. At that point, presumably, those who have the option to continue to work on dairy farms will be legal to work anywhere or at least anywhere in agriculture.

They will then be faced with a choice to stay with you or seek work elsewhere. In today’s highly networked society, they will have no problem learning about other opportunities. Will they stay as dairy farm employees or seek alternative employment?

I do not know the answer to that question. I do know the more they feel welcomed at your dairy and a part of a passionate, engaged workforce, the less likely they are to seek alternative jobs.

The time is now to prepare for immigration reform. Your best path is to become a better employer, perhaps a preferred employer, using the practices recommended above.

A concluding note
Your dairy is a success because you understand dairy cows and how to provide what they need to be productive. Your dairy business success increasingly will depend on being able to do the same with the workforce.

You must understand the workforce and provide the work environment where each employee will grow and succeed. This will require your time, your learning and your skill at developing human resource strategies and tactics. The result can be that your dairy will thrive, your employees will blossom, and your dairy will be considered a preferred employer. PD

Bob Milligan is also a professor emeritus of Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

bob milligan

Bob Milligan
Senior Consultant
Dairy Strategies LLC

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