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Finding and Keeping Good Farm Labor

By Jason Bradley
Agricultural Economics Consultant

Posted Dec. 3, 2018

Good help is hard to find. Most of us have heard this before, but for farm and ranch managers and their employers, it’s not just a saying. So if you’re hoping to find that next all-star employee, here are some things to consider.

Blueprint the Position

Before you start seeking out that perfect employee, you need to know what that perfect employee looks like.

Step 1: Develop an outline of what the job position will entail.

Write out what the employee’s responsibilities will be and who they will be accountable to. There are great examples and drafts of job descriptions online, which can provide you with ideas on how to write these descriptions.

Step 2: Develop an employee handbook.

While it may sound trivial, a handbook gives your employee(s) a solid foundation of what their job is.

For each employee, this handbook should explain:

  • Their position title.
  • Their supervisor.
  • How they’ll be compensated.
  • What their schedule could look like.
  • If they get sick leave or vacation.
  • What benefits are available to them.

This handbook won’t have the answers for everything in it, but having the basics in place will help minimize the chance of something happening and nobody knowing how to handle it.

As situations arise, address them in the handbook. The handbook should be a continually developing work-in-progress. Not only will this help you and your employee(s) stay on the same page, it will also help when you start recruiting new employees.

“The degree to which any individual or organization succeeds does not depend upon capital assets but rather the honesty, energy and wisdom of its management, conditioned with the degree to which they resolve loyal and intelligent support from their fellow workers.”
— Lloyd Noble, 1945,
founder of Noble Research Institute

Get the Word Out

When a company has a product they want people to buy, how do they get people talking about it? They advertise it. Now, how do sports teams find the best athletes? They go out and recruit. Advertising and recruiting are the best ways to get the type of employee you’re looking for.

If nobody knows you’re looking, you’re not going to find the right person. By using the job description you’ve created, you’ll be able to attract the right type of employee who knows what they can expect from the job and what the job expects from them.

One of the top ways people find out about open positions is by word of mouth. Having a great industry network through groups like farming and ranching associations provides great contacts who may be able to pass your information on to someone they think could be a great fit.

Other places to advertise and recruit are:

  • On websites.
  • In the classified pages of your local papers.
  • At local universities and colleges.

Cattle hand drives a herd

Take Them for a Test Drive

You’ve gotten an email or a phone call from someone who sounds like a great match. They heard about the position from someone during a local meeting, got online to do a quick search on your name and found the job description you listed. Now it’s time to interview them.

Interviews are a great tool that can help you decide if a potential employee is going to complement your operation. If you have multiple people interested in your position, phone interviews are a great way to narrow down who will make the final cut.

Since a good number of operations are hands-on, working interviews are a great tool that can show you how potential employees think on their feet and adapt.

  • Take the day to drive around with them.
  • Discuss how the operation works and what direction you’d like to see the operation move toward.
  • Get to know them and their interests.
  • Find a couple small projects to work on so you can see how they follow instructions and what they do once they’re done.

Remember: Everything in an interview is a test, either from you or from them.

Invest in Who You Hire

“Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” —Richard Branson

Finding employees who are passionate about their jobs, who love what they do day in and day out, and who are willing to put in extra time and effort so they can help improve your operation is an awesome thing.

Great employees are assets that when you invest in them, they can provide an amazing return. Investing in your employees doesn’t necessarily mean you have to increase their pay.

  • Invest in ways that create an environment that makes their job enjoyable and gives them pride and a sense of ownership in their position.
  • Give them more responsibility in areas of interest. Allow them to get training in these areas.
  • Be careful not to hinder innovation and new ideas just because “we’ve always done it this way.”
  • Be the employer you would want to work for.

Lloyd Noble, founder of the Noble Research Institute, understood the importance of investing in his employees. He was known to say, in reference to the men who worked on his oil rigs, that tools will wear out or become obsolete but the men will increase in competence and judgment.

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