Staffing solutions for primary Industries: Managing people and change to grow a successful agribusiness.

Executive Summary

The wide degree of anticipation for the completion of this report by many people suggests to me that the problems of getting the job done whilst maintaining harmonious employment relationships are greater than first envisaged.

The human (social) component of triple bottom line reporting has only recently become acknowledged as part of sustainable business management.

The race for talent has begun; the statistical projections for where future employees will come from are compelling. All industries are competing for fewer available and skilled people.

People have been leaving agriculture for years and the job has still got done. However the quality of output, level of productivity and lost opportunities does have a cost. The real labour shortage in agriculture is in the area of middle management and people who can manage people.

Supply chains are being shortened, product specifications more defined and margins squeezed. If employers cannot compete as producers of high quality low cost food and fibre, then production will be exported to countries with lower costs of labour.

There are no simple answers to harmonious employment relationships. No one size fits all. Even the very best people people can get it wrong despite spending vast amounts of time in communicating with their people and upgrading their skills.

In agriculture we will see a bigger gap between those who think and those who do. In the past we have had to be able to do the whole job. Future farm size will prohibit this. Scale and specialisation will dominate world agriculture in the future.

Agribusiness has to adopt a professional approach to Human Resource management. As employers we must upgrade our skills and be seen as employers of choice for an ever decreasing talent pool, rather than last resort.

There are only three essential elements that we need to get right; Recruit, Motivate and Retain.  Recruitment is the only time we can truly influence the outcome, if in doubt, don’t hire. Recognition and achievement are real motivators and remember to say thanks. People will stay with the business if they think they own it, devolve responsibility but maintain accountability.

Best practice in employment can be summed up as:

  • Full and honest communication with employees about each individuals performance and about the companies prospects,
  • Involve employees in developing the business and invest in growing their skills.
  • Treat employees fairly and with respect

Leadership in farming requires more than just being technically sound. Leaders of people require an understanding of self combined with a positive and disciplined approach.

We have a very good set of points of difference and positive lifestyle factors to leverage off. There is nothing like prosperity to raise the profile. As society changes new types of employee will emerge, particularly from older lifestyle changers.

Once a day milking shows real promise in fitting into the changing needs of society.  This would fit the NZ style of pastoral farming more than any other. A mindset change is required away from production to productivity and profitability.

Adoption and adaptation of new technology to farm systems needs to continue. Measures of milk produced per person compared to twenty years ago would suggest that this would continue. Robotic milking is a limited option. Labour is not eliminated but still required to manage and interpret information.

There is opportunity for groups of farms to engage a specialist HR consultant. Also to share labour across enterprises.

Sectors of agriculture such as “dairy farming” need to be re branded to get away from some of the current negative connotations. Everyone has a duty to lift the image.

Development of simple modulated systems that are well documented and easily replicated will assist in improved productivity. Roles are likely to become more specialised and tasks based on rostered systems.  More shift type work will prevail.

Recruitment of immigrant labour to fill low skilled and seasonal positions is a very real option. These people are very keen to work and are often well qualified. They do not need to be looked upon or treated as slave labour. Some may be displaced farmers from other modern countries.

The result of socially influenced policies of work life balance and reduced work hours will necessitate agribusiness becoming more flexible to accommodate the needs of their employees.

As employers we have very real competition for competent skilled staff and must walk the talk to attract and retain sufficiently skilled and motivated employees.  If we want a good reputation then we have to do a good job.

Staffing Solutions for Primary Industries: Managing People and Change to Grow a Successful Agribusiness – Murry King

Our programmes work in partnership with some of New Zealand’s leading agribusiness organisations – click here for more.​