Employees and Training Are Investments Worth Cultivating

Published on: 12:35PM Jun 03, 2011

You need to invest in employees if you want top performance from them and from your farm.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension Service
Recently I was in a ‘think tank’ group considering new educational programs for dairy farmers. The discussion came around to employee development and whether it is a cost or an investment. Someone in the small group raised the point that he was hesitant to invest too much in training his employees, because they will just get hired away by someone else and then he’d have to start over again. I have to admit, I was caught a bit off-guard by the comment.
I’ve heard that said before, but I thought we had gotten past that notion and had impressed on farmers the value of proper training and development of employees. Apparently we still have a ways to go in that arena.
I can’t help but think back to a retired bank president who once told me with great pride of the number of vice presidents that had gone through his bank. At first glance, one would wonder why he was proud of having so many past VPs. His pride came from the fact each of those previous VPs had gone on to be vice president at larger banks with more responsibility, or even as presidents at some banks. This gentleman took great pride in having been a part of developing that employee to be qualified for even better jobs.
That attitude is reinforced by a quote from Bill Mies, professor emeritus at Texas A&M University. Mies said, “I always felt I’d rather have people working for me that other people were trying to hire than the ones nobody wanted. If I could train them, make them that valuable person that somebody else wanted to hire, I was still getting a better person working for me every day they were here. So we’ve got to put more time and investment into our people.”
Every farm wants that perfect employee who shows up for work early every day, stays late (but never puts extra time on the time card!), does at least 1½ times the work of any other employee, never makes a mistake, and does that all for minimum wage. Unfortunately, there aren’t many of them around-- unless you count yourself!
The point is that you need to invest in employees if you want top performance from them and from your farm. Even employees who come to you with great skills and experience need training from time to time for new tasks, handling new equipment, following new procedures, or even as a reminder of how familiar procedures are supposed to be done. No one is a perfect sponge who retains every message the first time and never forgets any of it. We all know more than we practice, so we need reminding from time to time.
Regular training opportunities help your business perform better. Regular training is a good opportunity to interact with your employees in a positive setting. It shows you care about improving your employees. It open lines of communications that make employees feel more comfortable coming to you with other work-related issues.
Training may take many forms. The most common is a group session focusing a particular topic for everyone to hear or experience. Don’t forget the value of very specific training for an individual or two, though. If you have only a couple of employees who are responsible for a particular task, very focused time with that one or two people can pay big dividends as they become more proficient and gain better understanding of how their job fits into the whole farm system. Maybe you will even want to send those key people to specific off-farm training opportunities. This focused time can also help you, as the employer, assess needs of the employee and goals they have for themselves. You may find the next higher-level hire in this small team training session. 
With this discussion, if you are still concerned about training a person only to have them leave in a short time, consider this statement from Sarah Fogelman, former Kansas State University ag economist: “I don’t worry about hiring a great employee and having him leave in three months. I worry about hiring a bad employee and having him stay for three years.”
I for one would rather hire and develop that good employee, plus treat them well enough they want to stay with me for three years or more.
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 [email protected] or (507) 536-6301.