Hiring: Getting it right the first time

Amber O'Brien
With labor uncertainty as one of the top issues of farms today, it is important for farm owners and managers to develop knowledge and skills in human resources

With labor uncertainty as one of the top issues of farms today, it is important for farm owners and managers to develop knowledge and skills in human resources. Farms have to compete with the “9-5, Monday through Friday” jobs, as an agricultural job can require some 18-hour days and many weekend hours which can be difficult to attract good employees.

Times have changed since farms could rely on neighbor kids to pick up milking shifts, or assume that help, with all of the necessary skills, will walk onto the farm asking for a long-term career in agriculture.

In the Becoming the Employer of Choice curriculum, developed by Wisconsin Extension Farm Management Educators and Specialists, one of the seven modules, “Hiring the Right People”, includes a section on writing job descriptions for positions needed on the farm.

Why a job description?

Why is a written job description important for hiring a position on the farm in the first place? Hiring and training new employees can be costly, and a detailed job description can help eliminate frequent turn over. It can also be burdensome for good employees if the new hire does not understand his/her expectations or does not have the necessary skill set to learn the new position.

It is more effective to attract the right candidates with a well-written description of a position instead of hire a new employee and lose him/her two weeks into the job due to lack of understanding of expectations.

The job-searching employee should clearly understand how his/her new schedule will look, and what his/her expected daily tasks before contacting the employer. A clear description can prevent overlap of job duties of various positions and reduce miscommunication between employees. A job description can also be used as an evaluation tool and a reference point for compensation.

Basics to include

Many potential employees are attracted to jobs with a clear purpose and an employer who has values similar to theirs. Including your farm’s mission statement can draw attention to a good job-seeking employee. Provide clarity of responsibilities, expectations, and an overview of the methods used to complete tasks. Simply writing “do everything around the farm” or “need farm help on weekends” is not appealing to an employee who is seeking a job with a purpose.  

Necessary qualifications is critical to include in the job description. This not only eliminates underqualified employees on the farm, but saves time and energy for the employer to sort through as resumes are submitted. Many employers are willing to “train the right person”, which should also be stated in the job description to attract ambitious employees who want to learn new skills.

Employers may also want to include the chain of command to prevent any confusion of who is in charge on the farm from the start. Active job-seekers look for compensation and benefits when reading through job descriptions. A clear starting compensation vs. a maximum compensation can captivate the right candidate who will strive towards the maximum compensation.

Be Flexible

Allow employees to perform a variety of task by keeping the description flexible without being too vague. Keep in mind that technology is always changing and future needs of the farm may change. Protocols and systems change over time such as a new calf-feeding system or a stanchion set-up is replaced with a parlor system.

The time of year may require an employee to perform various job duties such as driving dump-cart during harvest if the farm is short-handed, and moving cattle in the summer time. The phrase “all other duties as needed” could be added to the description to cover these variabilities, as long as the expectations are communicated to the employee during the hiring process.

Write job description for yourself

To improve your job-description writing skills, try to write down your own job description as if someone was replacing your position. Have another set of eyes read it over to see if he/she understands what your job entails. Keep in mind that a new employee will be unfamiliar with your farm, so they may interpret a certain part of the description differently than you. If you have difficulty clearly writing a job description, it may be beneficial to seek professional help.

County Extension Educators offer affordable classes of the Becoming the Employer of Choice curriculum for farm employers and managers. The modules include: From Managers to Leaders, Developing a Motivated Workforce, Hiring the Right People, The Farm Business Culture, Strategic Leadership and On-boarding, Reviews and Feedback, and Managing Conflict. Contact your local Extension office if interested in attending these programs.

Amber O'Brien

Amber O'Brien is the agriculture educator for Calumet County

UW Extension