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9 Tips for Hiring Farm Labor

Walk carefully through the hiring process to find the best person for your position.

Finding the right employee to fill a new position in your operation can feel a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack. “Picking the right employee takes a lot of thought and a lot of communication because you’ll ultimately be trusting some part of your business to someone else,” says Cole Ehmke, agriculture entrepreneurship management specialist at the University of Wyoming. “The more thought you invest in the hiring process, the better.”

Following are Ehmke’s nine steps for hiring the person best matched to the job you’re offering.

1. Review your vision.

“Think about where you want your business to go and how you want to get there,” he says.

2. Survey your needs.

Even if you think you already know what the emerging but unfilled position entails, wipe your mental slate clean and revisit your needs.

“You might summarize on paper what’s going on in your operation, what you are doing, and where you want to head,” says Ehmke. “Where are the gaps in the work needed to take you where you want to go? Maybe you’re just expanding and need someone to provide more labor; maybe you want to take some responsibilities off your own managerial plate.”

Narrow down the broader processes of the needs assessment to get a picture of the type of work a new employee might do to fill the labor gaps you’ve identified. Break this work down into the specific jobs for which an employee would be responsible.

3. List desired traits.

“Think about what kind of person to hire for the job,” says Ehmke. “Identify the characteristics you would like the employee to have. You might list traits such as a strong work ethic, ease of working with people, or skill in operating machinery.

“If you’re looking for someone who might, in time, assume a managerial role,” he says, “you could broaden the skills to include an ability to interact with farm stakeholders, an ability to manage marketing, or an aptitude for developing good working relationships with lenders.”

You might also list as a desired trait an interest in ongoing learning.

4. Decide what you’re offering an employee.

List the wage you’ll pay and the benefits you’ll offer, including time off. Benefits of the working environment might also be included.

5. Write a position announcement.

“Briefly summarize your operation and describe the job in a way that will build a pool of interested people,” says Ehmke. “Remember that this is a marketing document used to attract talent.”

The wording of the announcement plays a role in attracting the employee you seek. For instance, advertising for a farm hand will draw responses differing from responses to advertisements for an assistant manager.

6. Evaluate the pool of people presently available to you.

This pool might include family members as well as present employees. Armed with the information in the job description, take stock of the skills and aptitudes of each. Keep an eye on the possibility that the prospective employee best suited to the new position as you’ve now described it is right before your nose.

Consider that bringing a family member on board as a new employee presents both opportunity and challenge.

“When you’re considering candidates for a position, it can be hard to choose between a family member and a candidate from outside your operation because you’re dealing with two different kinds of information,” says Ehmke. “You’re familiar with the family member as a person but not as a peer. You may be less familiar with an outside job applicant as a person, but references will reveal something about what the person would be like as a peer.”

To find an objective way to evaluate your family member, temporarily switch off your emotional responses to that person. Do a skill assessment. Decide what’s most important to you: the efficient operation of your business or having a family member engaged in the operation.

7. Decide whether you have the resources and flexibility to develop a candidate.

Consider that your search for an employee could lead you to a promising candidate in terms of such traits as attitude, work ethic, and shared vision – but lacking in skill. Decide in advance of hiring whether or not you have the flexibility to develop that person on the job.

Development of an employee opens the door to a two-tiered position: entry level with advancement possibilities. Consider, too, that a possible outcome of taking time to develop an employee could lead to the shaping of an invaluable, “committed stakeholder,” says Ehmke.

8. Interview the candidates.

Whether the initial interview is done by phone or in person, it’s the time when both parties are taking stock of each other.

“Review the person’s résumé and references,” says Ehmke. “Inquire about his or her training and experience, previous job accomplishments, nonjob accomplishments, and motivation and ambition. Ask about expectations.”

9. Consider hiring for a trial period.

“Try a six-month or a one-year employment trial. At the end of that period, have an intentional conversation about frustrations, challenges, hopes, and expectations,” he says. Having periodic assessments is helpful for all employees.

With family members, in particular, establish from the outset of the trial period an exit strategy for the employee that provides an amicable way out.

During the hiring process and the days that follow, remember Ehmke’s axiom: “People seek a place of employment for the money, but they stay because they’re satisfied with the job.”

After hiring someone, you might find yourself wishing you’d done a better job of orienting and setting up the position. Or maybe you wish you’d recognized earlier the differences between job candidates.

Rather than experience a high turnover in employees because of mistakes made, find ways to gain experience in the process of hiring and employing people.

“Hire summer interns to find out what your strengths and weaknesses are as an employer,” suggests Ehmke. “There are also dozens of human-resource books that might help, as well as information online.”


Cole Ehmke


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