THE entire spectrum of Australian agricultural businesses will need to be more adaptive to change in order to hire and retain millennial staff, according to rural workforce planning and development expert Sally Murfet.
Millennials, born from the early 1980s to about mid-1990s, now make up more of the workforce than any other generation, but they are different to those before them in that they want to be connected and undertake work that is meaningful, not just exchanging time for money.
Some agricultural employers are recognising this and looking for opportunities to increase employee engagement, but more needs to be done to understand millennials to help attract them to the agriculture workforce.
Speaking at the GRDC Farm Business Updates in Wickepin last week, Ms Murfet, who is the chief inspiration officer at Inspire-Ag, said the supply of agricultural labour had been a longstanding issue on farms.
"There are indications from demographers that say in 2020 there will be a global workforce shortage of 85 million - from an Australian point of view, some are predicting a deficit of 1.4m people," Ms Murfet said.
"Therefore, as an industry competing against other industries for people, we need to become savvier about how we attract, develop and retain millennial talent to the sector.
"This is especially important given that the average age of an Australian farmer is 56 years and the average age of our farm managers is 56 years, according to the ABS."
The average tenure of a millennial employee is two and a half years and throughout their working life, it is estimated they will have five different careers and 17 different employers,
"Understanding this helps to highlight trends or risks that require addressing and helps to identify strategies for better workforces," Ms Murfet said.
She believes it's ironic that farmers don't like the human relations side of their business, but employing the right staff makes all the difference to the success or failure of that business.
"A senior agricultural communications expert told me recently "as an industry we are really good at production, not so good at people, but it's the people that do all that production," Ms Murfet said.
"Competing for talent and recruiting is the number one concern among the farmers and agribusinesses that call me in to help them.
"If we want to attract talent to our industry and businesses, the stopgap strategy towards HR systems and processes will not serve anymore.
"Without taking the time to engage in a structured Workforce Planning and Development process, employers will compromise the success of their business."
In today's agriculture industry, up to six generational groups coexist in the workplace, with making sure they all get along a major issue employers are facing.
"I've spent a significant amount of time trying to understand what drives each generation," Ms Murfet said.
"What defines them? How do they communicate? I keep thinking, surely if we all can understand each other better, this will lead to improved workplaces, industry, business, government and communities."
Mr Murfet believes that in the past, the agriculture industry has had a "carrot and stick" approach to people management.
"However, modern workforces are smaller, with more specialised skills because of advances in technology which has changed production systems," Ms Murfet said.
"So, as a result, we need to reconsider the way that we manage people too, if we want successful farm businesses."
When looking at statistics around employee engagement, Ms Murfet said the numbers spoke for themselves.
"It's estimated to cost between 50 to 200 per cent of the annual wage to replace an employee and bring a new one up to speed," she said.
"Studies have shown significant benefits to the financial success of an organisation where high employee engagement was a considered factor, such as a reduction in staff turnover (65pc), safety incidents (48pc), and absenteeism (37pc).
"Businesses who focus on employee engagement were 22pc more profitable than those that did not."