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Become an Employer of Choice

Posted: December 29, 2006

We think we have it tough finding dairy employees in Pennsylvania, but we ain't seen nothin' yet!

I was in Iowa and South Dakota recently, those states are dealing with unemployment rates of 3.6 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively. Five percent unemployment is generally considered a state of “full employment,” the U.S. is currently at 4.4 percent and Pennsylvania is at 4.3 percent (See data at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/lau/home.htm).

Even Hispanic workers are difficult to find in Iowa and South Dakota because of the remoteness of some of the farms. The meaning of these low unemployment rates is that everyone who wants a job already has a job. If you want employees, you need to have a reason why an employee should choose you over another employer who will be more than happy to have that person. You need to be the employer of choice.

An employer of choice is competitive in compensation. In Pennsylvania that means that your front-line employees (milkers) will be receiving packages worth at least $8 to $12 per hour. Middle managers are likely to have packages worth $30,000 to $50,000 or more annually. If you can't keep employees and you are below those figures then compensation is likely part of the problem. Remember that compensation includes hourly pay and all other benefits (house, food, insurance, etc.) that an employee receives.

It's not all about pay. Employees who have a choice of who they want to work for will look for other things. The type of work is important, many people believe that dairy work is dirty, long hours, low pay, and no opportunity to advance. Sometimes that is true, but many dairies are relatively clean, professional operations. Dairy producers need to make sure that the jobs they offer are presented positively to the public.

Recent research shows us that employees really value two important human resource management practices: performance feedback, and opportunities to participate. Employers who provide feedback on performance, both positive and negative, to employees were much more likely to have employees who felt committed to the business. They want to know how they're doing. Committed employees also felt that they were given chances to participate in decisions that affect their work. Participation means to encourage and listen to employee ideas and make them feel like part of the team.

I believe that the shortage of employees for jobs of all types on dairy operations will grow to be the primary limiting resource. There will be opportunities to expand, funds for investment, land to support farming, and markets for milk, but the lack of quality employees will limit some dairy growth. This situation is not likely to improve in the near future. Make sure that you are an employer of choice in your local labor market.

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Richard Stup, Senior Extension Associate and Human Resource Specialist
Penn State Dairy Alliance