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The key to effective dairy farm recruitment

This month, we continued our series of articles in British Dairying Magazine on farm labour.

The current challenges in the labour market make effective recruitment an essential skill for every farming business. In this second article of a series on farm labour, British Dairying seeks out guidance from a recruiter in farming to outline some important steps in the recruitment process.

Farm owners and leaders often find recruitment of staff one of their biggest headaches. Time consuming and frustrating, it can sometimes result in poor decision making.

“For many farmers, when they are desperate to fill a role, they can end up employing someone too quickly. This can be a recipe for disaster” says Paul Harris from REAL Success. “Without a robust recruitment process, you can end up recruiting in haste and regretting at your leisure.”

Here are 10 steps to consider

1. The Staffing Need

Before you begin to look for a new employee, it’s vital to be clear on exactly what you need. A member of staff moving on may be an opportunity to change responsibilities or promote from within. Therefore, you may not need a straight replacement for the person leaving. Also, when do you need them to work? Is the role seasonal e.g. calf rearing? Where will they work? Who will they work with? What sort of accommodation do you have, and does it need improving? What type of person are you looking for? What skills and experience do they need to have?

2. Job Description

Once you have identified the staffing need, you can prepare a job description. This outlines the key responsibilities, tasks for the role, and shows who they will report to within your business. Resources and free templates are available online including the resources page of the REAL Success website.

3. Person Specification

This is an important document to prepare as it indicates the ideal skills, experience, and attributes the person you’re looking for needs to possess e.g. telehandler certificate, a driving licence or have a certain number of years’ experience. It’s also critical to consider what sort of personality style they need to have for the role e.g. a calf-rearer may ideally need to have a high attention to detail along with a caring manner. If you identify these traits in your preparation, it will help you find the right person at the interview stage.

4. Advertising strategy

Where are you going to advertise the role? Do you have social media accounts where you can provide pictures of your farm in addition to the role details? Consider using online recruitment sites like Indeed.com (which can be free to advertise), jobsinagriculture.com and 4xtrahands.com as most people look for their next role online. Prepare your advert carefully with details of your farm, the role, the ideal candidate, and the benefits you will offer. Remember – the advert is to get candidates to apply, so sell the sizzle about your farm!

5. Assess the candidates

Once the candidates start to apply, it can be tempting to speak to every applicant and hastily arrange interviews. Refer to your job description and person specification, resisting the temptation to take the first person who has applied. It’s better to take longer to recruit the right person that to quickly take on the wrong candidate and then need to make a change at a later stage.

6. Personality Profile

Knowing the personality style of the person who may be joining your team is vital. Employing someone who is likely to clash with your existing team or who will find it difficult to fit in, can cause serious problems with team morale and effectiveness. Ideally, you will have already profiled the existing team so you can easily see how the potential recruit will fit in (or not).

7. Interview professionally

Some farmers prefer to leap into the Kubota or Land Rover and show potential staff around the farm, chatting casually as they do so. Many are also unaware that they are asking leading questions and discover after the candidate starts work that they cannot perform the tasks they said they could at the interview. Have pre-prepared questions and undertake the formal interview first. Then, if this part goes well, show them around the farm in a more relaxed manner.

8. References

Whilst it is unlikely a candidate will provide a reference of someone who will speak negatively about them, it’s still important to follow up references, ideally before you make the formal offer. Or you make the offer subject to satisfactory references

9. Formal Offer

By law, all employees should have the primary terms and conditions on day one of their employment. The easiest way to ensure this is to put your formal job offer in writing (email is fine) stating all the basic elements, such as job title, salary (or hourly rate), working hours, holiday entitlement, accommodation details (and any conditions such as energy charges).

10. Onboarding

The recruitment process does not end on their first day. You will need to prepare a detailed induction plan for the first few weeks on the farm including covering all the HR issues (right to work checks, contract of employment, bank details etc.) plus going through all your procedures and protocols. A quick whizz around the farm does not demonstrate professional onboarding process so plan this with as much detail as the very first step in the process.

For free resources to support dairy farm recruitment, such as job descriptions, right to work checklists and interview questions visit our resources page.