The most recent job report estimated the unemployment rate to be 3.6%. Despite very low unemployment, the total workforce is only about 1.5% greater than it was before the pandemic in 2019 – a growth rate of 0.5% per year. There simply are not enough workers. In this article, we seek to better understand what is happening in the workforce by focusing on two key priorities and offering recruitment ideas.
The current labor environment
The labor market has been tightening and thus more challenging for employers over the last decade or so. As baby boomers retire, there are fewer young people entering the workforce. Compared to other generations, many young people are having fewer children and postponing starting a family until they are more established in the careers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to great personal and societal changes, and the resulting stress caused many individuals and families to re-examine their priorities. After working remotely or being at home due to unemployment, many people discovered that their current or previous employment was no longer satisfactory. Some changed jobs, left the workforce or transitioned to part-time work to have more family time, which was exacerbated by the possibility of their children learning virtually. Many employees have placed a greater importance on career/life balance than they did before.
Two events that occurred during the pandemic heightened the job expectations of many workers, especially those in low-paying jobs. The first is the $15 minimum wage movement, and the second is the increased awareness of racial injustice created by the George Floyd murder.
Until recently, agriculture has been less impacted than most sectors because we had little loss of or change in employment during the pandemic since our work cannot be done virtually. The work flexibility that is a key component of career/life balance is a huge challenge in agriculture, and a great dose of creativity will be required by employers. These trends may have even greater impacts on us in the future. Similarly, fewer workers will likely accept the days per week and hours per day expectations that are common in agriculture. This challenge will be greatest with our most skilled workers, which are those we can least afford to lose.
Two key hiring priorities
You want your dairy business to be considered a preferred employer or employer of choice, which is a business employees will choose to work for over other businesses. A farm or business becomes a preferred employer in two ways. First, it must be a great place to work, one with engaged employees who will be ambassadors for your farm. Second, it must communicate excellence to potential employees through networking in the community with potential candidates and through professional recruitment and selection processes.
The second priority is closely related to being a preferred employer. Increasingly, successful recruitment uses the owners’, employees’ and farms’ networks. Many positions are filled with candidates who have already had contact with the farm or business either by visiting the farm, doing an on-farm internship or by connecting with the owners or other employees at events external to the farm. With a tight labor market, I believe that utilizing this network will be the primary or maybe only source of candidates in many situations today.
Further, when you do have an open position, you must use every possible networking opportunity and brainstorm everyone you know who might have a connection to a good candidate. Identify external opportunities to connect with potential candidates by attending events that future employees attend or are a participant. Examples include school activities, FFA functions, job fairs, etc.
Professional recruitment required
When recruiting, the goal is to reach and persuade qualified candidates to apply for the open position. Recruiting includes promoting the positive attributes of the farm and the available position, and providing information that will enable a potential candidate to succeed in the position. Remember, the key question you need to answer when recruiting applicants is “Why should I apply for this position?”
The positive attributes are often sadly lacking in most recruitment materials I read. Recently, I was teaching a seminar for managers, and they had a very difficult time moving past their concerns about offering competitive compensation. Compensation is important – but not nearly as important as most think. Did you become a farmer for the money? Take the time to brainstorm positive attributes of the job through the lens of your future employee.
Your recruitment plan to reach great candidates and entice them to apply for your position can include informal word-of-mouth communication, ads announcing the position in places where potential candidates will see them, postings on job boards, internet job announcements and formal recruitment services.
Great recruitment marketing materials can be developed using the following steps:
- Lead with a positive statement or job characteristic that attracts attention.
- Give the job title.
- Say something positive about the business.
- Describe the job.
- Explain qualifications necessary for success in the position, including the competencies.
- Provide information on wages and benefits, as appropriate.
- Include how to apply for the job.
The resulting recruitment materials can be posted on the internet (Craigslist, internet job posting sites, etc.), in newspapers and in flyers that can be handed out and posted.
Dr. Bob Milligan is a senior consultant with Dairy Strategies LLC, and a professor emeritus with Cornell University. Email Bob Milligan.