FARMING businesses in Western Australia are struggling to keep permanent staff with the agricultural industry not being as attractive as it was for many.
South Stirlings farmer and 2015 Nuffield scholar Reece Curwen attended the Inspire Summit 2018, Perth, last week to share his findings on how to create a stable workplace.
Mr Curwen currently has 12 members working on his team and in the past he has had an unstable workforce.
“A few years ago we were losing 30 per cent of our workforce a year which was really hard when you are trying to create a stable place to work,” Mr Curwen said.
This issue led to him studying the business growth through employment.
Mr Curwen said the ag industry was hugely reliant on foreign labour and casual staff to get the job done.
“The backpacker system is just fantastic, they are only here for a short period of time, they want to work as many hours as possible and work as hard as they like to make as much money so they can enjoy the country,” he said.
“But this has resulted in us being very reliant on backpackers and we are always importing this expertise, we are training them up and teaching them, then they leave and we have to start the process again.”
Mr Curwen believes the most critical element about a business was the people and as a result people were the ultimate key to expansion and capturing opportunities at home.
“Trying to create an environment that people want to be a part of is really important to us,” he said.
Throughout his research, Mr Curwen discovered that in WA the number of people in rural areas was decreasing, the average age of the farmer was increasing and the industry as a whole isn’t appetising enough to encourage the next generation to come through and choose agriculture as a viable option.
Mr Curwen’s study objectives were to focus on what were the best ways to attract and engage the current labour force and how do you retain your team for the long run.
“If you attract, engage and retain you have made steps to becoming the employer of choice with higher staff retention,” he said.
In 2015 Mr Curwen travelled throughout 16 countries and had 130 meetings with global industry professionals, including farmers.
He found there was no silver bullet when it came to managing people, however there were a number of one percenters that could collectively make a significant difference when it comes to creating a place that people want to be a part of.
“A lot of farmers have chosen to make investments in machinery and technology before making investment in people on their farms,” he said.
“It’s an easier thing to invest in and that’s because the human brain is unique, each and every one of us thinks differently so there is no standard and no one size fits all when it comes to managing someone.”
Something Mr Curwen found interesting on his worldwide study was a lot of really great companies he visited didn’t employ people on their skill set, instead looking at their attitude.
He said the next generation would see struggles in the ag industry with the average farmer being 58 years of age.
It’s predicted that by 2020, 40pc of the industries labour force is going to consist of Gen Y (born between 1980 and 1994) and Millennials (born between 1994 and 2000).
“They have the motto of work to live rather than live to work and this is because we have never really had it hard, we have never been through a recession, a depression, a war and we have been very fortunate throughout our lives and that has set the way that we think and there is no fault for that, that’s just the way we are,” Mr Curwen said.
“The millennial will average more than four careers, staying an average of two years in a role and working for more than 17 employers in a lifetime.”
An interesting finding for Mr Curwen was that people and cultural fit, along with career potential and a work/life balance, was what Millennials were looking for in employers over compensation or money.
He said it was something employers needed to take hold of because once they know what the generation was like then they could create a working environment around those key points.
Mr Curwen has been focused on his working environment for his staff by implementing a few key steps.
“Some things to consider is - developing the shared mission, vision and team goals, creating shared core values of your business which sets the standard and removes attitude, understand the employees vision and conducted weekly meetings and constant communications,” he said.
“The most powerful tool when it comes to staff retention is giving them responsibility in what they do and when you give them responsibility you also have to make them accountable.”
The most successful businesses that Mr Curwen visited around the world were those who had delegated responsibilities to others.
He did this by changing roles such as when the sprayer driver was getting bored of spraying at some point, giving them some exposure to other parts of the business.
Mr Curwen said farmers needed to support growth through training and there should be a section in the budget for training of staff.
“Its great to continually up skill the team through what ever they would like to learn and at the end of the day it will benefit you, if you are allowing them to get something done,” he said.
“Your team needs to be seen as an investment rather than a cost.”