With the availability of skilled labour widely touted to become an even bigger problem post-Brexit, Katie Jones talks to an expert about what employers can be doing to ensure the recruitment process is a pain free as possible.
In recent years there has been a heavy reliance on EU labour within the dairy sector, and while Brexit might make recruiting from within this category more difficult in the future, EU labour is only a solution to a problem UK agriculture already had.
Ian Lindsay, business development director for recruitment specialists LKL Services, says the industry as a whole needs to work together to attract more new entrants, both home and abroad, into the industry.
“We need to get into schools, and try to attract younger people into farming. We have got a lot to shout about in terms of the technology being utilised in the industry, but we do not tell people about this."
But on a more immediate and practical note, Mr Lindsay says farmers need to work on their recruitment process to ensure they get the right candidates for the right jobs.
Mr Lindsay emphasises the need to create the ‘right climate’ for staff.
“This does not necessarily mean you need to have the fanciest or newest equipment, or offer the biggest wage,” he says.
“Over time, you will get a reputation for being a good employer, by looking after your staff and being sympathetic to any problems they might have.
“Farmers should be completely honest from the start of the recruitment process about what future plans for the farm are, what the restrictions to these plans might be, and from the outset discuss any downsides of the job.
For example, if the parlour is due an upgrade and as a result milking is taking longer than necessary, then let them know about it.
“One of the main reasons employees leave a job within the first six months is because the employer has not been open about the negatives, as well as the plus sides, of the job.”
In terms of wages, Mr Lindsay says it is important to make sure what you are offering is competitive.
“A survey I carried out looking at what motivates staff produced some interesting results. The farmers consistently ranked wages and remuneration and job security as the biggest motivators.
"Herdsmen on the other hand ranked communication, training and responsibility, and appreciation, above wages and job security."
"While farmers are often willing to provide training on something they will see an immediate response from such as foot trimming, they might not be so willing to provide training in other areas where the payback is not so immediate.
“Employers often think they will provide training and then the employee will leave to go somewhere else, but even if that happens then so be it. All it means is you will get a good reputation for providing that opportunity to individuals and you will find it easier to recruit next time.
“It is also useful to look at different ways of getting the training you require; perhaps your nutritionist or vet could provide some training for very little cost.
“However, you should remember that even if you spend a couple of £100 training staff to spot a case of mastitis, it will certainly pay for itself in the future when you think about how much a single case of mastitis costs.”
However, as well as training you need to provide staff with the opportunity to communicate their knowledge back.
“This does not just mean a blank whiteboard in the dairy. You need something on there, perhaps in the form of images, to draw information out, whether that is information on lameness, bulling cows, or supplies needed.”
Mr Lindsay says the interview process is as much about the prospective employee assessing whether he wants the job, as much as the employer seeing whether the candidate is suitable.
“For more senior positions in particular, it is important to tell them about the farm, future plans, and current issues.
"Give them about 15 minutes of your time before turning the spotlight on them. This sets out your store, and also allows them to relax into the interview.
“The cost of getting recruitment wrong is tremendous, and if you get it right then you hopefully will not have to recruit again for some time.”
Source: Survey carried out by LKL Services