Employee Training: An Important Tool for Creating and Retaining your Ranch's Workforce

Published on Fri, 08/19/2022 - 1:58pm

Employee Training: An Important Tool for Creating and Retaining your Ranch's Workforce

By Jaclyn Krymowski

Finding the right employees willing to work is an ongoing issue in the beef community. And this is only part of the struggle – once new hires are added, it can be difficult to ensure they receive (and implement) proper onboarding and training.

Oftentimes even qualified employees will come with diverse backgrounds and adjusting them to your specific operation is crucial not only for their workplace performance, but also to help with retention rates.

According to the Nebraska Beef Extension, hiring in agriculture is so difficult right now that it has been referred to as the “Great Resignation,” where operations must compete for the remaining available workers.

But when you do get a hold of workers, how you bring them up can greatly impact how long they stay and how well they perform.

Especially in today’s economy, good help that saves you both time and money is essential. To help hone and retain those employees requires good hiring and training processes for each employee you bring to your operation.

The importance of good training
Finding the right, skilled employees willing to work is an ongoing problem in the beef industry. And even once new hires are added, ensuring they get all the proper training specific to your operation can be another challenge.

Specified plans and protocols (written and committed to memory if possible) to train new hires and update current employees with additional training are crucial to long-term success in employee management. Remember, working any job is an ongoing learning process, even for seasoned industry professionals. Both formal and informal instruction is critical for all your staff, be they part- or full-time.

High turnover rates can make it more tedious and difficult to maintain training integrity. And while all the best treatment in the world will never guarantee how long a given employee will stay, it will, at the very least, give them the tools to do their job correctly. Insufficient education clearly has lots of harmful human resources and business implications, but more importantly, for the working ranch, there are also impacts on cattle.

High turnover rates, often associated with quick hires and a poor training process, have been linked to decreased livestock production and consistency. On the flip side, long-term employees who are familiar with animals and know the established routines have been shown to reduce animal stress levels.

And that’s not to leave out the human element. On operations and feedlots, a well-trained employee is a safe worker. Their experience aids them in various situations, and these employees can be valuable to an operation. Training can aid new hires to be more acclimated and comfortable working with animals and can potentially prevent injuries, according to American Family Insurance’s article Safety Tips for your Feedyard.

What to incorporate
The foundation of all employee training should revolve around safety (including self, other employees and animals) and animal welfare. This should involve hands-on demonstrations in various situations, task-specific training and supervision.

Training should be done by a manager or high-level, trustworthy supervisors with experience doing the teaching tasks. It is always helpful to have a written protocol somewhere accessible on the property that anyone can easily reference on an as-needed basis.

When there are high turnover rates and multiple people telling new hires how to do things, miscommunication and breakdown can happen quickly. Having something written helps reinforce official operating procedures and keeps everyone on the same page.

Regular meetings should be established to inform the team of goals, new challenges and current productivity to ensure things are being carried out as intended. This may also open a door for discussions around issues with the existing protocols and where adjustments can be made. Plus, meetings focusing on feedback and positively-directed discussion can serve as a morale boost and promote pride in work well done.

There are certain cases where it may be beneficial to outsource specific training to professionals. This might include artificial insemination and other repro-related tasks, animal health procedures, equipment maintenance and usage or safety. You may find that your sales reps or veterinarians are happy to assist with employee training. There are also some professional agencies that your extension agent can point you towards.

A great resource that each and every beef operation should incorporate is the checkoff’s Beef Quality Assurance or BQA training at bqa.org. With both online and in-person courses, BQA offers an abundance of online and in-person programs covering a variety of topics, including transportation, husbandry and biosecurity, available in English and Spanish. This provides a great framework if you are new to the employee training process and overwhelmed about where to start.

Additionally, don’t be shy about incorporating your expectations regarding work attire, attitude and commitment into your conversations. Ensure employees are aware of their personal responsibilities, especially regarding their safety. Make a note of things like safe apparel and equipment (having suitable footwear, no loose-fitting clothing, etc.)

Certain specialty tasks should be assigned to specific individuals. These should require additional training for safety and skill and made clear that these tasks are off-limits to other individuals.

Keep it going
There are several ways to stay on top of training and ensure that both new and current employees have the required training.

One helpful tool is periodic performance reviews. These can amend any communication gaps or misunderstandings in handling protocols. This is also an excellent opportunity to evaluate where additional training might need to be implemented.

A South Dakota State University new release titled Employee Training Important to Dairy and Beef noted that investing in performance reviews also allows employees to provide feedback on where they feel they may need better training to meet the expectations or requirements.

Part of ensuring employees are well informed is to make sure if there are bi-lingual employees that they have protocols accessible in the language they are most comfortable with so understanding and communication is clear.

Besides boosting your operation’s productivity and reducing turnover, formalized training can help reduce liabilities involving costly workplace injuries or accidents. Not to mention, it makes even the most chaotic tasks and seasons less stressful for both people and animals.