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Farm advice: Attracting and retaining workforce

Attracting and retaining great people starts with creating great workplaces — somewhere that people want to work

One of the most confronting messages that has stuck with me is something economist Shamubeel Eaqub said at the People Expo: “It’s never going to be easier to find staff than it is now.”

As an eternal optimist and with a job that’s about improving the capability of people in dairy farming, I didn’t want to believe this. Farmers are telling me how difficult it is to find the staff they need and want right now. I hear the stress and concern it causes, and the impacts this can have on their families, friends, and lives.
Yet I’m hearing this message from Shamubeel that it’s only going to get harder.

Unfortunately, that’s a reality we’re currently faced with and not a message I share lightly.

However, as a sector, I believe there are things in our control to change this.

The sector needs about 24,000 total employees working on farm, which is around 0.6% of the working population. While dairy farming isn’t a career that will suit everyone — you don’t need it to — but you do need those 24,000 to be great employees. Attracting and retaining great people starts with creating great workplaces — somewhere that people want to work. This is important because great employees have choices, and we want them to choose dairy.

While no two people are the same, we know from research done by DairyNZ and other sector organisations that the below are some of the key things people want:

  1. Remuneration packages must be competitive: people must feel they are paid fairly or better for the skills they bring and the work they do, based on every hour worked.
  2. Not all hours are created equal: for early work, late work, and weekend work, people generally expect a premium or something extra that’s of value to them.
  3. People like working for good managers: these are leaders and managers who do what they say they will and have the respect of their employees. Being a good manager and leader is critical.
  4. People do their best work in great workplaces: places where they feel valued and that they belong, where they are safe (physically and emotionally) and know what they are there to do and why it’s important.
  5. Helping people achieve or get closer to their dreams counts for a lot: this sounds big, but if you work to understand what this looks like for your employees, you’re onto a winner.

This list is a good starting point for employers, as it has a focus on making decisions with people at the centre.

I’m not saying this is easy. Being a great employer is a commitment and hard mahi, however, people doing it well will say that it provides a sense of satisfaction and joy, as they see people thrive under their leadership, while also delivering business success. This may also seem more daunting and difficult with other challenges in the sector, however, people are key to the success of your business and can help you understand where to gain efficiencies and save money.

In time, the New Zealand dairy story won’t focus on the number of milking cows, but the people who are working on your farms — the people who are New Zealand dairy.

Images supplied, Adobe Stock

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