Finding and keeping great farm employees

OMAFRA’s Mark Ferguson and Marlene Paibomesai

How do you find and keep great farm help?

That’s a question all farmers are wrestling with as labour becomes tougher to find and often equally difficult to retain. With low unemployment rates, it’s tough to keep talent on the farm, says Mark Ferguson, business management specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

At the recent SouthWest Ag Conference (SWAC), Ferguson teamed up with OMAFRA dairy specialist Marlene Paibomesai to offer tips on how to attract and retain farm employees. Paibomesai notes that a recent survey of progressive dairy herd operators in the province shows that the general workforce is not motivated to work on farms — with other options available, potential employees typically look elsewhere.

Competing with other sectors that offer better hours and higher pay can prove challenging, says Paibomesai. To overcome these hurdles, she says farmers have to be both diligent and creative in their approach. That process starts with the job description, which needs to set clear job expectations, including hours, compensation and explain how the employee will be engaged in the business.

In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Paibomesai reminds farmers that employees are looking for more than just a paycheque. She notes that it’s important to understand what motivates and de-motivates employees. At the top of the that list is a liveable wage. Workplace culture, business engagement and empowerment, and the ability to learn skills and grow within the organization are also key considerations for workers considering your employment offer. (Story continues after the interview.)

When it comes to assessing potential candidates, Ferguson says farmers need to consider job-specific skills, whether it be milking experience, combine operation or pesticide application certification. But softer skills — communication, working with a team, punctuality — are also critical, he adds.

Ferguson also stresses the need for farm managers and business owners to be leaders. “You need to make sure you’re accountable and lead by example,” says Ferguson. “Listen to employees. Let them know they can come to you with a suggestion and you will actually take it into consideration — that goes a long way.”

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