“Employers today are struggling to find the right people,” says Gary Maas, president of Agricareers, Inc. “It's hard to find employees who have the skills and competencies for the job, the values and behaviors that promote job satisfaction and the attitudes that motivate them to excel.”

After spending an afternoon with a potential job candidate, Maas says it's tough to know if you'd like to work with him or her for years.

The cost of hiring an unqualified person may far exceed the time requirements of finding out if the person is right for the job. Experts say the risk of hiring a bad worker can be minimized with a sound selection process and deliberate employee management system, and by following a few guidelines.

  1. KNOW WHAT YOU NEED

    Take time to evaluate the credentials of prospective employees, says Melvin Brees, farm management specialist at the University of Missouri.

    Create a job description that details the tasks of the position and establishes specifications and requirements needed to do the job. Also, remember that a job description should evolve with the business, position and employee.

    The best way to recruit skilled new employees is to make your business the kind of place where talented and hard-working people feel appreciated and valued, Maas says. Being a great employer makes it easier to retain quality people and develop a reputation of being the employer of choice.

  2. EVALUATE THE APPLICANTS

    Ask questions pertaining to specific farm-related situations.

    “Make sure you compare apples to apples so that every applicant has the same start,” Maas says.

    Written tests are good to gather general information and are an excellent tool when technical knowledge is required, while oral tests may help assess the applicant's communication ability and technical expertise. Individual interviews allow potential employers and employees to get to know each other. However, some applicants may sound very impressive during an interview and disappoint once on the job, or be nervous in an interview and miss their opportunity to shine.

    A practical test is useful because it requires the applicant to perform one or more of the skills the job requires, Maas says. These tests also demonstrate the applicant's thought process — can they ask questions, prioritize tasks and keep their composure if something went wrong?

    Have the applicant provide the names and phone numbers of past employers. While keeping in mind people have different perceptions and personalities, Maas recommends looking for patterns with previous employers.

    If the new employee will be working with current employees or family members, include them in the evaluation process. Also, remember that evaluation goes both ways — you may not get a great employee if you don't put your best foot forward, too.

  3. BE THE BOSS YOU WOULD WANT TO WORK FOR

    Ask yourself the question, “Would you like working for you?” No one ever said that employee management would be easy, but it doesn't have to be difficult.

    “Employee surveys have shown that the most important thing to employees is working for someone they trust and having a boss that looks out for them,” Maas says.

  4. LAY THE GROUND RULES

    No one likes to play in a game where the other players make up the rules as they go along. For many agricultural employees, that's exactly the kind of situation in which they work.

    Many agricultural managers fall into the common trap of assuming their employees know what's expected of them. The best way to establish rules is through an employee handbook.

  5. PROVIDE PROPER TRAINING

    “Even employees who are experienced in the industry will need training and orientation specific to your venture,” Brees says. “It's important that both employer and employee understand each other.”

    In fact, studies show it takes 30 days for a new employee to be fully oriented into a business and a year for an employee to be fully trained.

    It's also important to learn that there is more than one way to accomplish most tasks. “Training can help clarify the differences between the right way, the wrong way and your way,” Brees says.

    Every business speaks its own language and has its own routines, so be patient and thorough when teaching a new employee.

  6. MEET THE EMPLOYEE'S NEEDS

    Successful compensation packages are really total rewards systems, containing non-monetary, direct and indirect elements all based on the objectives of the employer and the needs of the employees.

    “Money is a big consideration, although other factors may be equally important,” Brees says. “As a farm manager, you should reappraise both the size and the composition of the wage package you offer employees.”

    Creative compensation alternatives are the small business's competitive advantage in hiring. Consider what monetary and non-monetary rewards your operation has to offer, and be sure employees comprehend them.

  7. UNDERSTAND EMPLOYEE SATISFACTION

    Every employer should be concerned about how satisfied their employees are with their jobs. Unfortunately, that's something that is usually hard to quantify.

    “Especially in agriculture employment, there is a feeling of achievement and many people find the work itself to be very rewarding,” Maas says. “Let employees grow in their job to increase skill level. Start out with a basic set of responsibilities and then offer advancement as the employee develops. People enjoy having responsibility and challenges.”

    Maas also says that sometimes over-analyzing situations can be destructive. “So many times managers focus on the employees who got away rather than the ones they have or could be missing out on.” he says. “One-sixth of employees who leave their job do so for reasons completely unrelated, and there's nothing that can be done about that.”

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  1. MAKING IT WORK

    “People consider more than wages, hours and fringe benefits of a job, so good employer-employee relations are important,” Brees says. “As in any job, loyalty to the business is a two-way street. The employer must believe in and support employees in their decisions and be willing to accept that employees will make a mistake. In turn, employees are more likely to devote themselves to jobs in a happy working environment than in an unhappy environment, even with higher wages and fringe benefits.”

Brees adds that employees desire good “mental wages” — such as recognition and respect from their employer. On the other hand, the employer wants employees to show initiative and pride in their jobs and to contribute to a profitable business.

“Being a good employer simply makes good economic sense,” Maas says. “Management is really just common sense — what you put in is what you get out.”

SPEAK UP

Want to learn more from those who have been there? Employers and employees shared comments on finding and keeping quality help through an online agriculture forum. Here are some of those suggestions:

  • “A bonus is a good way to show someone that you appreciate what they do, but a ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ go a whole lot further.”
  • “I'm treated basically as a partner. My boss actually listens to me and considers what I say to be important and just as worthy of consideration as anyone else's info.”
  • “Don't let the hired help do only the dirty work.”
  • “If I make a mistake I'm never looked down upon or treated as a child; the boss knows that we're all human.”
  • “Be generous with compliments. It doesn't cost much and pays dividends.”
  • “Things work more smoothly when employer and employee understand each other's strengths and weaknesses.”
  • “Let employees in on your plans; they need to know what's going on and what's next on the list.”
  • “I treat my employee as a friend and a partner, after all we are in this together — we both need this to succeed.”
  • “An attractive, well-equipped and well-run farm owned by a farmer known as a community leader and an all around nice guy usually gets the best help.”
  • “Pay a wage that a provider can feed his family on, some people will take a pay cut to farm, but won't make the family suffer.”