More flexible rosters, better pay and other incentives are needed if farm employers are going to attract staff this year. Sheryl Haitana looks at ways to make your job stand out from the rest.

To attract or retain staff onfarm this year, loosen the purse strings, advertise differently, introduce more flexibility, and back it up by being a good boss. Farm employers will need to get more creative to fill staff gaps for next season because the staff shortage is very real, DairyNZ Lead Advisor – People Jane Muir warns.

“The dairy sector was really short staffed going into Covid-19 last year, and the pandemic has exaggerated that shortage.

“We are not so concerned that the cows won’t get milked, dairy farmers have a long history of always milking their cows, but we are concerned that people won’t have time to spend on the strategic parts of their business and that adds to the stress levels and impacts people’s wellbeing.”

When the cows get milked and production targets are being hit, it can be easy to think the farm business is doing well, but a staff shortage means people only have time to do the essential jobs and everything else piles up.

“We are more worried about burnout and wellbeing. Lots of people have been operating short staffed and we are about to roll over to another year.”

Hanging on to your current staff

This season, farmers are faced with few options to help full those positions on their farms so firstly, try and retain the staff you already have, Jane says.

“People leave the dairy sector every year, try not to let those people go. Have a conversation with them about what it would take to keep them.

“They already have some skills, they know your farm.”

There may be opportunities to help keep those staff by offering more responsibility and/or more training. Remember vocational training for dairy is mostly fully subsidised by the government this year and next, Jane says.

Farmers could also look at options to lighten the workload onfarm, such as variable milking frequency.

“Milking sucks up the most hours so if the business is short staffed that could be an option.”

If DairyNZ and Federated Farmers are successful getting 500 overseas workers into the country, it’s not enough people to fill the gaps and is only an option for some farms due to the quarantine costs, she says.

“Migrants have been a critical and valued part of the workforce, but the borders are not opening any time soon. Employ New Zealanders.”


Check out the part timers

The unemployment rate in NZ is low, but farmers should look at the under employed sector.

These are people who are working part time, but who could work more hours if they were offered flexibility.

For example, parents who can work only between school hours can’t always milk the cows, but there are plenty of other jobs they could do during the day.

High school students are another key group. They might not be able to work during the week, but they are keen to earn cash and are available to work weekends.

Or retired people who might want to work part time, but not in full time employment.

Another group is Work and Income clients. Farmers already employ a lot, but may not be aware of the support available such as financial support for training and wages.

There are also migrants in the country who are on open work visas or visitor visas who can’t work in permanent roles, but are available to work for short periods of time.

“You have to think outside the box.”

If farm employers treat relief and casual staff well and offer them regular work they are more likely to be loyal, Jane says.

“If you use them every fortnight instead of a random once or twice every few months they are more likely to make you a priority. If you can schedule regular days, they can schedule their lives.”

Rosters are a big factor in making sure people are happy in their work and employers need to consider who wants to work big hours and who wants less hours so they can do other things.

Some people will want to work less hours and not on weekends so they can spend time with their children or friends.

“It’s often the time people want, not just the money.”

“Everybody has their own view of what work/life balance looks like. We need to continue to drop our hours and improve our rosters.”

Farm owners, sharemilkers and contract milkers must understand that it may not be everybody’s goal to own a farm, because that is not realistic, so their goals will be different.

“Everybody has their own view of what work/life balance looks like. We need to continue to drop our hours and improve our rosters.”

For some people, it is the money, and they want to work as many hours as they can so their partners don’t have to work, or they are trying to save or pay off debt. But farmers must pay them well for every hour.

“We don’t want to see increased hours for no remuneration. It will become a detractor if we do that this year, we will pay the price for it next year.”

Wages are moving, but farmers need to look at what they are paying and reflect on how valuable people are to the success of their business, she says.

“We would like to see an effective hourly rate. Agree on an hourly rate with your staff member, and work it backwards if they are on salary.”

Healthy homes

Another key tool in farmers’ pockets this year in attracting staff is housing, Jane says.

“What are the hot topics in the media? Covid-19 and housing. Farmers have housing available. Everyone is short of housing and we have it. I think it’s a massive opportunity.”

From July 1, the Government’s Healthy Homes scheme kicks in. Farmers do need to act on it because the fines are significant if the house they are offering is not up to standard. For example, the dwelling must have insulation and a heat pump.

“Don’t look at it as compliance, but as a massive opportunity for farmers to have good quality housing that will appeal to people.

“If it’s not good quality now, you can make it better.

“You might want people to come to farming for the job, not the house. But we can end up with some great people who love the dairy sector.”

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