Solving Labor Challenges on Your Operation

producers loading crop into truck

When asked about their top challenges, farm and ranch managers consistently cite labor, for good reason. The U.S. unemployment rate is near all-time lows at 3.6%. In the four states served by FCSAmerica, the labor market is even tighter. The unemployment rate ranges from 1.9% in Nebraska to 3.3% in Wyoming.

Employers are desperate for workers. The successful ones set themselves apart by understanding what they need from each job and tailoring their employment packages accordingly, said economists and AEI founders Brent Gloy and David Widmar.

During our latest Two Economist and a Lender webinar, Gloy, Widmar and credit officer Carl Watson discussed several approaches for attracting and retaining employees. All rely on creating an advantage for yourself in the job market.

The wages you pay need to be competitive, Gloy said. But pay is your baseline. To compete in today’s market, you need to think about what else you can offer – how you can solve the needs of prospective employees.

Many people sent home during COVID-19 shutdowns want to continue working from home. While this isn’t an option for a hired hand, Gloy said, it might be for an accountant or a bookkeeper.

Watson said one of his customers hires farmers who are preparing to retire and, as a result, have tax obligations. The customer benefits from the workers’ many years of experience; the workers benefit from wages that allow them to manage tax bills.

Hiring challenges aren’t easy to solve, Widmar acknowledged. But that doesn’t give you a pass. You need to work through the challenges by asking how you can do better.

Start by assessing your employment needs, Widmar said. If you have good employees, ask for their input. Also, think about short- vs. long-term needs. It’s easy to get caught up in putting out today’s fire, Widmar said. But be strategic and think about what you need down the road. Perhaps someone on staff plans to retire in the next few years or you hope to expand an area of your operation.

Write down the minimum skills required for each job, as well as the ideal skill set. Compare this to what you know about your local labor market. Mismatches between need and availability require some problem solving. In many instances, Widmar said, small adjustments can right-size your employee search.

Maybe one job can be turned into two part-time positions. Or a high school student can be paired with someone who has ag experience. Some employers offer the use of their machinery to attract workers who are trying to get into the business for themselves. Others hire interns with the goal of developing prospective employees who meet their specific needs.

The full recorded webinar is below, “Beyond Dollars Per Hour: Rethinking Labor Challenges.”


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