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UK Dairy Day highlights need for investment in industry

This month we continue our series of articles on labour in British Dairying.

People are the future of the dairy industry, and the sector must continue to work on attracting – and retaining – the brightest and best new workers out there. That’s according to a panel of experts speaking at UK Dairy Day, who were looking at the various investments required in the coming years. Olivia Cooper reports.

Investment in new infrastructure and technology – including net zero options – is essential. But it will only be successful if it has the right people working with it. And farmers can use that new technology to attract new staff.

“Change is coming – the next generation are going to run the industry differently to how we’ve run it,” said Paul Harris, Founder at recruitment
and retention specialist, Real Success. “The next generation are embracing change and accepting the environmental pressures facing the industry – they’re so passionate about making the changes which are needed for a bright future,” he added. “We should embrace those who have a different view to us they may not want to work 100 hours a week, but there’s nothing wrong with that.”

 

Attracting to the industry:
Attracting people into the dairy sector is a challenge, but new technology and automation can make jobs easier, less stressful, and more efficient – while potentially also reducing the farm’s carbon footprint.

“There are a lot of different roles for people,” said Hugh Pocock at agribusiness recruitment firm Cultura Connect. This includes those within the wider supply chain, not just at the farm end. “There is a real shortage of people, so any business needs to stand out from the rest,” he explained. “Why should staff come and work for you? The culture you create is critical.”

Dairy is the heaviest borrowed sector of farming, with 34% of Barclays’ dairy clients borrowing £400,000 or more, said James Milne, the bank’s Regional Agriculture Manager. With interest base rates so high, they will be reluctant to borrow much more, although the banks’ appetite for lending to the sector remains strong, particularly for farms which are making the transition towards net zero.

“Dairy farmers are leading the way on carbon audits and we want to help finance that transition.” Paul Tompkins, Vice Chair of the NFU National Dairy Board, and who milks 400 cows in Yorkshire, is focusing on every way to increase productivity and efficiency – and sees people as a key part of that.

“The future of dairy farming is the people,” he said. “Net zero is achievable, and the people I meet in this sector are hungry to achieve good things.” But there is still a lot more that producers can do to attract – and keep – good staff.

“There’s a huge world out there that doesn’t know about farming – we need to go out and talk to them,” said Paul Harris. Recruitment shouldn’t just focus on those within the industry, but those outside of it, too, who can bring fresh ideas and perspectives. “We’ve got a lot of work to do on gender and racial diversity,” he warned.

From an individual perspective, the main reason people leave jobs is because of the way they are made to feel, or the way they are spoken to. “Nobody likes to work for a grumpy boss,” said Paul Harris.

“Communication is key. Sometimes we don’t listen enough to staff – they don’t want feedback, they want attention.” Feedback is usually seen as criticism, so he suggested adopting the ‘feedback sandwich’ approach, in which any negatives are sandwiched by two positives.

“People should feel better at the end of a feedback session than when they come in. Focus on what they’re doing well, and grow that.”

 

Motivation:
Motivation and engagement are two different things, he added. “You can’t
motivate anyone – it’s a thing you have to create through really simple things like good working conditions and investing in training – that is motivational. Motivation is about creating a great farm environment, engagement is about talking to, and listening to, people.

“People often say to me: ‘What’s the point in training people who then leave?’ I say: ‘What’s the point in not training people, and they stay?’” And the sector itself needs to present a positive, professional and attractive front, said Paul Harris.

“It’s very easy, with all the things that are coming at us, to be negative. But if we want people to come into the industry we need to start talking it up – we need skilled people. The future is bright, if we make it so.”