Strong recruiting in a tight labor market

Woman berry pickerIt’s April and the activity level on your farm is increasing fast. You pulled out the standard tools you use for recruiting your seasonal farm crew…you placed a few ads, called the local employment office, put up a few posts on your Facebook page, sent off an email to your former employees (the ones you want back)…and nothing. A few half-hearted emails and a voicemail that got cut off before you could get the return number.

You’re thinking, “What happened? It’s not poetry, but it’s always worked before.” Usually by now you’ve got most of your crew lined up.

The difference this year is that you are facing increased competition for a smaller workforce. The economy is starting to regain some strength and workers that were unemployed are finding their way back into the workforce. So what’s a farmer to do?

Unfortunately there is no easy solution to this dilemma. You are hiring in a competitive market so you have to find a way to make your job stand out from the noise of all the other starting positions.

Here are a few tips that might get your farm labor opportunities noticed!

  • Put your marketing hat on. Use the same skills you use to sell a new customer on your products. It may not sit well with you but you are now in a position of competing for labor. That means you have to shift from “what are you going to do for me” to “what am I going to do for you” thinking. Review your job postings and advertisements to see if the position sounds interesting, fun, and an opportunity to grow or whether it sounds repetitive, boring and uninspiring.
  • If you are marketing your jobs to Millennials understand that a sense of purpose and mission is important to them. Share your vision and why you do what you do.
  • Keep the expectations reasonable — try to stick to eight-hour shifts, clearly identified days off, and have some scheduling flexibility.
  • Be competitive in wages. Familiarize yourself with the cost of living in your area and know what other entry-level jobs are paying. Consider incentives that provide ways employees can increase their wages — end-of-season bonuses, for example.
  • Emphasize any non-wage perks you can provide — it might be free/discounted produce, weekly staff cookouts, leadership opportunities, training events, etc.
  • Frame the expectation in a positive way — instead of “work outside in all weather” try “opportunity to be active, working outdoors” — you’ll have time to spell out the realities during the interview.

While these tips may help you recruit a larger pool of potential workers it will not necessarily yield a highly motivated field crew. You’ll have to screen carefully, interview thoroughly and follow up with reference checks. Remember, skipping any of these steps can lead you into trouble. There are worse situations than being short a few workers. But that’s a story for another time…


About Mary Peabody

Working with beginning farmers since 1994.
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