Finding good staff is a bugbear for many farm businesses. Ben Pike finds out how you can improve your staff intake.
Recruiting good staff for your business is more than just a numbers game. It is about quality.
In the same way the owner of a small beef farm is unlikely to go on a nationwide search to headhunt the best stockman in the land, a large fruit growing enterprise could not single-handedly find scores of reliable, diligent people to pick its annual crop with care.
Finding staff who you can rely on and keep hold of is no mean feat. In fact, in today’s world it has never been more difficult.
The key to success is choosing well – with both the method of recruitment you go for and the people being hired.
Government figures estimate about 60,000 new entrants will be needed in UK agriculture in the next 10 years. And this is on top of the ongoing demand of farm businesses for experienced staff to backfill a natural turnover of labour.
That is a lot of recruitment and for some it can be a daunting, stressful task.
Of course, there are the traditional methods of finding staff – using word of mouth and local advertising – but there are also other avenues available to farm businesses today.
Recruiting from a university can offer farmers the opportunity to snap up raw talent and mould them into a role.
Graduates from agricultural universities have often been exposed to farmwork, having taken 12-month work placements in the industry and they are keen to find employment.
Maria Simpson, careers service manager at Harper Adams University, says employers are actively encouraged to attend a career and placement fair held each November.
“Employers come on-site and meet with prospective students of all years and course areas.”
“Each year we accept placement opportunities from many farm businesses, which is a fantastic opportunity for businesses to gain a student’s knowledge and help them develop and learn.”
Employers can also advertise their vacancies direct to students on the Harper Adams careers website. Vacancies are also promoted to students on its Facebook page.
The Royal Agricultural University’s annual careers fairs are usually attended by 60 employers. There is also a jobs portal advertising up to 800 vacancies for those who have graduated in the past three years.
Before students graduate they use the university’s careers office, which offers a CV checking service and training sessions, focusing on interview skills.
“We routinely work with farmers and the industry throughout the UK via guest lectures, regular visits to farming enterprises, our annual careers fair, and through advertising job opportunities direct to students,” says Maria.
Alternatively there is the apprenticeship route and this can be a positive way of planning and filling any impending skills gaps you may have. By investing in an apprentice it will allow you to nurture and grow your own talent. With more than 250 apprenticeship frameworks available, your apprentice will become qualified in subject specific qualifications and develop specialist knowledge of the job role and of your business.
Farmers looking to take on an apprentice need to follow several simple steps.
First, check the apprenticeships framework for a suitable candidate at www.afo.sscalliance.org
The next step is to register an interest with the National Apprenticeship Service at apprenticeshipvacancymatchingservice.lsc.gov.uk or by calling 0800 015 0400.
A training organisation which offers farming apprenticeships will handle an apprentice’s training, qualifications and assessments. These can be found at findatrainingorganisation.nas.apprenticeships.org.uk, or by calling 08000 150 600.
Then it comes down to the selection process and signing an agreement with an apprentice.
There are important things to remember, including:
As part of the Business of Farming series, Farmers Guardian has teamed up with FarmCare to launch the Business of Farming conference, taking place on December 6 at Wootton Park, Warwickshire.
The one-day event has been researched with farmers across the UK and will look at the core business issues affecting farmers. Attendees can expect a range of motivational speakers offering take-home solutions to benefit and protect farming in the future.
HOPS – the commercial trading arm of the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs – offers a matching service for farm businesses and potential employees.
One side of the business is dedicated to sourcing seasonal labour for predominantly horticultural businesses, with the other side focused on finding permanent farm staff.
John Hardman, a director at HOPS, says: “In the past, farmers would place a job advert in a local newspaper and usually find someone through there.
“But farming has advanced. On any typical dairy or arable farm the knowledge required to do the job has increased 10-fold, so local advertising is not really the most effective way of recruiting.”
HOPS keeps a database of job seekers detailing their skills and experience. It also maintains a record of farms looking for labour. Farmers pay a fee to the agency for a successful recruitment.
“The list of farmers looking for employees is much longer than the list of job seekers,” he says.
This is partly down to a large number of Romanian and Bulgarian workers who, since gaining full access to the UK job market, are looking for work in industries other than agriculture.
Previously, under the now-defunct Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, they were vital crop pickers and packers.
John says the advantage to farmers of using a recruitment agency was the time saved in advertising, shortlisting and interviewing for staff.
“The hassle is handed over to the agency to find suitable talent.”
Andrew Pimbley has been on a recruitment drive. Just three years ago he had one full-time member of staff. Now he has 46 employees at Claremont Farm, the Wirral.
His family has been tenants at the 81-hectare (200-acre) site on the Wirral Peninsula for more than 100 years.
They decided to invest in a huge farm shop, restaurant and butchery, which was predicted to need about 20 staff.
However, the popularity of the venture led to 15 full-time and 25 part-time employees being recruited, as well as six seasonal picking staff who work in the strawberry and asparagus fields.
He says: “We recruit largely by word of mouth. I deliver a lot to Liverpool so I hear about people who are good and available from the kitchens which buy our produce.
“We’re in a heavily populated area so there is a pool of people and I’ve also used Hospitality Liverpool’s Facebook group.”
Andrew says the administrative burden has been a shock, and managing people is a ‘huge responsibility’.
“It’s massive. When you have one person to deal with, you have one set of problems. When you have 40, they all have their own set of circumstances which we need to understand and work with.”
Full-time staff are enrolled on training courses and Andrew says the financial outlay of having a team is challenging.
“When you first start recruiting you cannot afford to pay top dollar – we didn’t know how popular we would be and we knew the part-time staff would probably leave after the summer, so it’s difficult to invest time and money in them.”
The farm employs a specialist human resources consultancy to help with legal issues and offer professional advice when required.