It’s all about who you know
According to the “Part-Time Ranch Employee Hiring Cheat Sheet” provided by the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management (KRIRM), ranchers should begin their search with locals who have the specialized skills they’re looking for, like working with horses or welding. “It starts with a good local network,” says Clay Mathis, director of KRIRM. “I’m talking about recommendations from those people who are in ranching. The network of people that we know is a really good way to find local help for part-time.” The cheat sheet advises encouraging your full-time foremen and employees to develop a network of potential hires as well.
If the hiring pool is a little shallow, it may be time to get creative with your hiring options. The cheat sheet suggests making a working arrangement with neighboring ranches and paying back in kind. This type of arrangement can become a long-term solution for labor issues.
According to Mathis, an experienced employee makes all the difference. “There’s always an advantage to more experience,” he says. “Those people that are hired will have the ability to make good decisions for the benefit of the ranch that’s employing them, so the more skilled the employees are at making decisions, the more successful they’ll be with the hire.”
According to Mathis, the higher the skills of the laborer, the better the decision-making ability they have, the higher their value. He says the challenge to find reliable ranch hands will most likely increase. “If we look into the future of ranching, finding highly skilled workers may become more difficult because fewer people grow up on ranches than they did in the past,” he says. “So as producers look at the management systems they have in place, and the thin margins within ranching, optimizing the labor force is going to be more and more important.”
He says the value of workers will most likely go up, as will the quality and skill required of them. “We may end up with fewer workers, but higher expectations for them, and that may come at a higher cost per employee to keep them working on the ranch versus finding a job elsewhere that’s more lucrative.”
Finding the perfect fit
When hiring someone on to do a job, no matter how long, it’s important to look for workers who fit in with the system and operations already in place. “When ranch managers are looking for day workers, they know what they’re needing,” says Mathis. “They need somebody that’s got work ethic and a skill set to be able to work cattle and be able to work in a manner that fits that ranch’s culture.”
Mathis says one of the best ways to achieve this is to clearly communicate the code of conduct expected on the ranch, especially in regard to safety. “I don’t know if it has to be written, but there needs to be clear communication of expectation and a clear understanding of the importance of safety,” he says. “How that’s communicated is probably less important, but it does need to be communicated very clearly.”
The cheat sheet suggests that carefully checking references is a good way to start with safety. “Always think safety first. Don’t hire risky behavior and send home immediately if it becomes a problem. Look for those who are willing to accept feedback and complete tasks the ranch’s way.”
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PHOTO: Experience matters with part-time help. The more experience, the more successful the work will be. Staff photo.