Farmers struggle with labour shortage

Hiring and retaining employees continues to be a top priority for agriculture and will remain so for some time, says a human resources consultant and employee recruiter.

“Employee recruitment is a hot topic because of the labour market shortage. People need employees and they’re not able to find them,” said Dawn Hillrud of Knibbs Human Resources Consulting near Weyburn, Sask.

“It’s been a thorn in the side (of producers) for several years.”

Hillrud, who also runs Sourcing People, an employee recruitment agency specializing in finding Canadian labour for the agriculture industry, told last month’s Feedlot Management School in Saskatoon that there’s been a shift in power from employers to potential employees in agriculture.

“You used to be able to post an ad … and get 10 good resumes, and you had the power as the employer. Now the candidates have the power,” she said.

“There’s 12 jobs to apply for and they pick and choose which ones they’re going to apply for. And from there they get multiple job offers.”

It’s a case of simple math. The birth rate is declining, which means fewer farm children are applying for jobs.

There’s a tendency now for them to remain at home as farms continue to expand. Those who leave gravitate toward post-secondary agricultural programs with the potential for higher wages.

“They’re not interested in coming back and being a labour source on your farm,” she said.

“They have a sexier job in a sales role with a truck and a phone.”

Producers must have a well-defined understanding of what the job entails before beginning the recruitment process.

“Know what the job needs to do now, what it needs to do next month, what it needs to do next year,” she said.

“Think about the job. Is it going to expand, are responsibilities going to increase? Are you going from 5,000 to 10,000 head? That might be exciting for somebody, so talk about how the job will grow with the person.”

Producers also need to use their imaginations when advertising jobs and sharpen their knowledge about human resources.

“We need to get a little bit corny and use some exciting titles on our job ads,” she said.

“It’s the title that grabs the attention.”

For example, if a producer needs a pen checker, instead of using that for a title, Hillrud suggests “year-round employment with the option of growth into a management position.”

“Which one would you read?” she said.

“Which one would you apply to?”

Hillrud encourages producers to consider hiring people from other industries.

“If someone can operate equipment in a construction setting ,why can’t they operate your feed truck or your tractor in the field. They have to understand general maintenance and machine operation,” she said.

“If they can do that in construction, why can’t they do that on a farm?”

Employees are mobile now, and producers could capitalize on this because there are geographic areas where potential employees are available.

“Yes, the prairie provinces are experiencing an extreme labour shortage, but Ontario and the Maritimes aren’t,” she said.

“There are good people that are willing and able to work that will come here.”

Interviews can now be done online, and successful candidates can also use the internet to buy a house, register their children for school and find their spouses a job.

“When they wheel into Saskatchewan, Alberta or Manitoba, they’re basically set,” she said.

Hillrud said compensation goes beyond wages and rewards.

“It’s not all about dollars and cents. There are all kinds of unique things you can do that will help retain your people,” she said.

“I challenge you to be creative in your rewards. It might be as simple as getting season’s tickets to the Riders. Send two of your staff members or a staff member and spouse to a game every month,” she said.

“It’s things like that that create such a tremendous amount of loyalty and doesn’t really cost you all that much.”

Other incentives might include extra training, bonuses and profit sharing.

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