Farmers at Ag Days might have left the farm in good hands so they could take a day or two off last week — but maybe not.
A near-capacity crowd in the Keystone Centre amphitheatre listening to a speaker talk about why it’s so tough hiring help on the farm these days is one sign there might be a problem out there.
Brandon-based MNP farm management consultant Peter Manness says he thinks part of the problem may be how farmers are trying to recruit, or not trying hard enough. A common complaint is, ‘we can’t find people because the oilpatch has taken them all,’” he said.
“But have we done all we can to find people and literally can’t find them? I don’t think that we’ve really done as much as we can to try to solve our labour problems.”
Manness said he mostly sees farmers who can’t find employees buying bigger equipment to get the job done faster with fewer people — a very expensive way to deal with the problem, he said.
Farm businesses are trying to meet their labour needs hiring local retired farmers who possess the required skills. But when trying to hire mainly from their own local agricultural community, they’re fishing in a dwindling pool as the rural farm population shrinks. They could improve their prospects by looking further afield, Manness said. Just because someone hasn’t grown up on a farm doesn’t mean they don’t have transferable skills, or couldn’t be trained. Farm-based employment is an attractive prospect to the right person.
“Think about the trucking industry right now,” he said. “I find it hard to believe that there aren’t people driving a truck right now that wouldn’t be qualified equipment operators and whose families would be very interested in having them working in a job closer to home.”
But looking further afield requires boosting the farm business’s presence online, he continued. You are going to need to create an online presence to drive people to you, Manness said, and that’s where he isn’t seeing enough effort. His own Google searches don’t turn up many farm job advertisements, he said.
“If I Googled your farm, what would I find out about you and your farm business?” he asked the Ag Days crowd. In an interview, he added that the days of putting a two-line ad out on Kijiji or in the farm press and expecting a response are over.
A better approach is a combination of Internet advertising and a farm website, detailing who you are and giving prospective employees a way to find out about you and learn about the work opportunity you offer.
“I think we’ve got to be able to sell ourselves more,” he said. “Because if I’m looking for full-time employment, I’m more likely to call people who have an online presence, so I can learn about them a little bit before I go to see them.”
Manness says some farms do fine hiring and retaining staff. They’re the ones who have not only adopted a professional approach in recruitment and hiring practices, but have devoted time to better understanding what employees want and need.
Those needs and expectations aren’t just about money. Surveys show one in every five workers say they expect to change jobs in the next five years. You need to be clear about benefits, work expectations and what sort of an opportunity you are offering a prospective employee, said Manness.
And what they want is job stability, respect in the workplace and work-life balance in addition to fair compensation. Work-life balance has become a bigger issue even among the incoming generation on the farm, he added.
Manness said he’s convinced farm workplaces have attractive and unique employment opportunities. What they need to do is talk up the benefits. Meals, use of vehicles and certainly accommodations are all of value to prospective employees. Farmers are also able to offer an outdoor worksite, and opportunities to engage with their work that enables an employee to see the progress and purpose of it. Many farm employees become an integral part of the farm family too, he said.
“I think there’s a huge opportunity to go out and resell agriculture as an opportunity that exists for meaningful employment for people.”