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January 2012 Archive for Labor Matters

RSS By: Dairy Today: Labor Matters, Dairy Today

Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

First Day at the Job

Jan 30, 2012

The top 10 things to have ready for your employee’s orientation day at your dairy.

Soriano photo 1 12By Felix Soriano, MS, PAS
APN Consulting, LLC
The orientation program is one of the most neglected functions in most dairy operations. Most of the time, new employees are left to gain knowledge and skills on the go without access to proper formal orientation and training. This results most of the time in unproductive employees that don’t care much about the dairy and end up leaving within the first year.
Always remember that first impressions are crucial. Just as you are forming an impression about your new employee, he or she is doing the same of you and your dairy. This is why it’s so important that, during the first days of work, managers and owners take the necessary time to work and orient the new employee to their new job and the dairy. 
Develop an effective orientation program and you will be able to:
1.       Create a positive attitude and job satisfaction among your new employees;
2.       Better align what people do to what you expect them to do;
3.       Reduce labor turn over;
4.       Reduce start up cost by reducing costly accidents or mistakes;
5.       Save time for you and your managers.
This is why it’s so important to spend time planning out the first days of work before the new employee arrives.
The top 10 things that you will need to have ready for the orientation day are:
1.     A mission statement, vision, and history of your dairy – This will be part of the introduction to the dairy and will help create a sense of belonging to the new employee. He/she will value your operation more!
2.     Job specifications and description – Very important to be able to better orient and train the new employee on what needs to be done and what it takes to get it done.
3.     Employee handbook – Every dairy operation needs to have a simple yet complete employee handbook with all the necessary information for people who work at the dairy. (For more information about preparing an employee handbook, contact me at felix@apndairy.com).
4.     Standard operating procedures (SOP) – Every employee needs to do the job the same way. SOPs will help during the training process and will promote job consistency among employees.
5.     Organizational chart – The new employee needs to know who will they be reporting to, who the managers are, who’s in charge of what, and what the chain of command looks like.
6.     Layout of the facilities and barns – Very useful during the orientation. Every new employee should have one.
7.     Housing accommodations should be ready – Have their room ready and clean. Make sure you also have house rules in place and that these are included in the employee handbook. What are the expenses covered by the farm? Which are the ones they need to cover themselves?
8.     Have a trainer/buddy assigned – This person will not only be your trainer but also your ambassador of the dairy. Define who’s the right candidate for this job and train him or her. Use outside consultants to help you train your trainer if necessary. Define step by step and day by day what your trainer needs to do and accomplish with the new employee. Train the trainer!
9.     A formal training program of proper cow handling techniques – No matter how much experience the new employee has, every new employee needs to go through a basic training on cow handling techniques.
10. Training on safety – Every new employee needs to go through basic training on safety. That includes safety when being around animals, the forage bunk, equipment, using chemicals and manure pits/lagoons.
Finally, hire an interpreter if your trainer or buddy cannot do the translation when you hire Spanish-speaking employees. Both the orientation and training program of new employees need to be done in the native language of the worker.
So remember, the first days on the job can set the tone for an employee’s experience at your dairy. Usually, new employees will be more receptive and eager to learn during the first days at the new job, so make sure that you and your supervisors do their best to make these first days a great experience for them.
Felix Soriano, president and founder of APN Consulting, has more than 10 years of experience working with dairy producers and developing tools and programs to improve dairy performance and profitability. He has a Master of Science degree from Virginia Tech and received an Agricultural Labor Management Certificate from the University of California. Born and raised in Argentina, Soriano can relate and communicate very well with Hispanic employees to help bridge the communication and cultural gap between workers and managers. While working as a manager for a feed additive company, Soriano developed his leadership and supervisory skills. Now based in Pennsylvania, Soriano can be reached at 215-738-9130 or apnconsulting@verizon.net or felix@apndairy.com. Visit his website at www.apndairy.com.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Jan 23, 2012

In a polarized world, much might be different if we only understood each other better.

Duvall, Shaun pro photo 1 11   CopyBy Shaun Duvall, Puentes/Bridges
Walk a mile in my shoes. How many times have you heard that saying? Well, what would happen if you implemented this idea on your farm this year for a day?
It is very easy for people to complain about someone else. We all have done it, and will probably always do it. It is much rarer to see through someone else’s eyes and understand, through their perspective, any issue. If we take this to the workplace, we can almost always hear employees complaining about how the boss has it so easy. We can also hear the boss complaining about how the employees don’t have the same stress as they do.
Each quickly denies the reality of the other’s perspective. “They must be nuts. I have it so much harder.” And the arguments start. We quickly realize that our best efforts at convincing the other don’t work. We can’t make them understand us, and we don’t understand them.
I offer an idea to make the understanding happen. It is a little unconventional, but might work. What if you changed places for a day? Maybe on each employee’s birthday, they could trade places with you. Or, what if they shadowed you for a day, and you them?
Let’s begin by examining what you would learn. I think many dairy farm owners/managers probably grew up on dairies, so they have a good idea of what the dairy cycle is. But do you know what it feels like to stand in a parlor and do nothing but prep cows and connect units for eight hours a day, everyday? Might that become boring? If you are someone who works in the barn, might it also not become boring rounding up the cows and scraping the manure all day? How easy it is to cut corners to make the time go faster? How, if the reasons for the procedures are not explained in a way you can understand, it might seem harmless to change them to make it easier for you?
Likewise, many milkers/scrapers/calf care people might not have a clue about the decisions you must make on a daily basis. Should I buy corn at this price? Should I lock in my milk for the next year? Should I hire this person? What about a cell-count bonus? How much? How should I resolve this difference between x and y employee? Should I get financing from x bank or y lender? Can I pay the bills this month? Which one should I pay?
If you allow the employees to see, live and therefore understand what you encounter on a daily basis, and if you can do the same, I wonder what might happen to your workplace? I have offered a similar experience: that of dairy producers going to Mexico with me to see, live and understand what their employees face before they come to the states to work. Once they go, they understand what the reality is. It makes a huge difference.
In a polarized world, much might be different if we only understood each other better. The road to understanding comes after living the reality of the other. Try it. What do you have to lose?
Puentes/Bridges is a nonprofit organization that, under Shaun Duvall’s direction, promotes cultural understanding, particularly in the dairy industry. Duvall also operates SJD Language & Culture Services, LLC, a translation and interpretation business. For more information, contact Shaun Duvall at shaunjd@tds.net or (608) 685-4705.

Got Immigration Inquiries? Expect Bleak Answers

Jan 16, 2012

You probably won’t like what you hear about employee visas, sponsorships and other immigration status questions.

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich Straub, attorney
Despite the bleak legal landscape, I regularly get immigration questions from dairy producers, and they are strikingly similar.
As an immigration attorney, advising dairy producers can be a very frustrating experience. Don’t get me wrong: The clients are wonderful, but the law provides very few options. In spite of the bleak legal landscape, I regularly get immigration questions from dairy producers, and they are strikingly similar.
A typical inquiry goes something like this: “Hi, my name is Joe Producer, and I have an employee who has worked for me for many years. He is a fantastic worker, and he has become almost like family. He is from Mexico. He gave me a Social Security card and state identification, and I completed the I-9 like I do for every employee. I have never asked him questions about his immigration status, but I am concerned. If he did come illegally, is there any way I can sponsor him and get him a visa?”
Before giving my typical response to this question, I need to give some ground rules. First, every case is different. You should not apply the general advice in this column to your situation without consulting with an attorney who can consider your unique facts and circumstances. Second, questioning an employee about immigration status can subject you to civil and criminal liability and should never be done without legal advice. Now let’s get to my typical answer.
Can I sponsor my employee and get him a visa? The answer is almost always no. In order to get a employment visa in the U.S., a person has to be “admissible.” There are many rules under immigration law that make a person “inadmissible,” such as having a significant criminal record or a communicable disease. Generally, anyone who has worked in the U.S. without authorization is inadmissible for purposes of obtaining an employment visa. In other words, if an employee is undocumented, he will probably be unable to obtain a visa because he has already worked without authorization.
If I cannot sponsor my employee, is there another way for him to get a visa? In most cases, there probably is no other way to get a visa. If the employee has a relative who is either a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, the relative may be able to petition for the employee. For example, a U.S. citizen can apply for her spouse, even if the spouse is undocumented. Rather than being an employment-based visa, it is considered family-based. In most cases, the law is more generous with family-based petitions, but the grounds of inadmissibility still apply. However, unlike employment-based cases, a waiver of some grounds of inadmissibility may be granted upon a showing of extreme hardship to a spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. The law is very complicated, so an undocumented person who has a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative would be wise to have their case evaluated by an immigration attorney.
Can I pay for my employee to have a consultation with you? You can, but in my opinion, it is not advisable. As an employer, you may have civil and criminal liability for knowingly employing an undocumented worker. An attorney has an ethical duty of loyalty and confidentiality to a client, and in this circumstance there is a potential, if not actual, conflict of interest. It becomes even more problematic where an employer makes the referral to an attorney who has represented or consulted the business. If the attorney becomes aware that the employee is undocumented, how can the attorney ethically serve both the business and the employee? The attorney has a duty to keep the employee’s immigration status confidential, but also to advise the business of potential liability. This is a classic conflict of interest and should be avoided.
This does not mean that the caring employer cannot refer an employee to an immigration attorney. Even a lawful permanent resident may need immigration advice, so the mere act of referring is not necessarily evidence of knowingly employing an undocumented worker. Just remember: Limit your involvement.
Erich C. Straub is an immigration lawyer who practices in Wisconsin and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, SuperLawyers, and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Firms. Mr. Straub has spoken to audiences throughout the U.S. on immigration, and frequently advises Wisconsin Dairy Farmers on the topic. He has traveled Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials regarding immigration reform. In 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a “national leader on the federal immigration issue.” Contact him at (414) 224-8472 or erich@straubimmigration.com.

Learn from Employee Exit Interviews

Jan 09, 2012

Take every opportunity to learn what you can from departing employees. Consider these pointers and sample questions.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension
I was recently encouraged by a phone call asking about questions to include in an employee exit interview. No one likes to lose a good employee. When one does leave, the employer should take every opportunity to learn what he/she can from the departing employee and do everything possible to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Ideally an exit interview is conducted in person, but sometimes that is not possible. Maybe the employee is not comfortable with an interview but would prefer to fill out a questionnaire. That is a decision to be made case by case. 
Similarly, an exit interview should never be mandatory. Do what you can to make the parties comfortable and invite them to participate by indicating how you are seeking their input to make things better for the next employee and the business. This is their chance to offer constructive feedback.
It is important to remember this is a chance for the employee to speak and the employer to learn. That means the interviewer needs to ask leading questions and then listen
Listening is probably the hardest part of this interview. Many people cannot stand silence so when there is a break or hesitation in the conversation, they feel compelled to speak. Fight that urge. Wait for responses. Give the person time to think and frame a response. They might finally respond with something like, “I don’t know,” but, on the other hand, they might give you really valuable information.
Don’t be defensive or take comments to personally. You asked for honest responses so accept them if given. The objective is to learn and improve your business as a place to work.
You should have your questions written out so you stay on track and learn as much as possible from the interview. You will probably get more honest responses if someone other than the employee’s direct supervisor conducts the interview. You might use a farm consultant or a senior manager for the interview.
The consultant who called me was looking at the following questions:
·                     How was your time at XYZ Dairy?
·                     What specifically did you do?  
o        Was this within your abilities?  
o        Do you feel you received the proper training?
·                     Were their protocols within what you have learned and within your ethics?
·                     What is the primary reason for leaving?
·                     Were there any procedures or policies that made your job difficult?
·                     Would you recommend a friend to work at XYZ Dairy?
·                     Were there some things about working on this farm that you especially liked or appreciated?
·                     Would you ever be interested in returning to work on this farm?  
o        If “yes”, why?  
o        If “no”, why?  
·                     Are there things you would suggest I [the one conducting the exit interview] should suggest over time to the farm that would make this a better place to work?
·                     Are there important parts of your job we should make sure are passed along to your replacement (skills or knowledge)?
·                     Is there anything else you would like to add?
These are just a few example questions, and it is likely they ended up combining some of those into more concise questions. Your questions may be different. If you want some ideas, a simple web search for “exit interviews” will connect you to many sites with good basic outlines for exit interviews and lots of sample questions you can use or adapt.
The last step in the interview is to thank the employee for their contributions to the farm and wish them well. If they were willing to give an exit interview, your relationship was probably pretty good. Maintain that relationship with a “thank you” and a handshake. You never know when your paths may cross again and how you may be of help to one another if you part as friends. 
Finally, do something with what you learn from the interview. You might hear some unpopular comments, but you asked the questions because you want to improve. Consider those responses that are less than complimentary and think about how accurate they might be and how they could be addressed to make the farm a better place to work. Celebrate and reinforce the positive comments.
Why not make your goal to be the farm employer of choice with potential applicants lined up waiting for an opening? You can be that employer if you take advantage of what you learn from employee exit interviews.
Chuck Schwartau has been with the University of Minnesota Extension Service for 31 years. As part of the Extension Dairy Team, he focuses on workforce development and management, dairy business organization and risk management. Contact him at cschwart@umn.edu or (507) 536-6301.
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