The Future of Staffing for the Pig Industry

Staff are the single most important asset to a pig business, and the UK industry is well placed to offer attractive employment, according to Richard Hooper. Jackie Linden, editor of ThePigSite, summarises his recent talk at the BPEX KT Event 2010.
calendar icon 30 April 2010
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Richard Hooper is the manager of the Harper Adams University College pig unit, and he was invited to speak on the future of staffing at the BPEX 'Back to the Future' KT Event earlier this year.

"There is a massive need for agricultural recruitment in the coming years," he said in the opening of his presentation.

Richard Hooper

He explained that staffing is essential to achieve a sustainable and profitable industry in the UK, which comprises 150,000 agricultural businesses and employs 660,000 people. Forty per cent of the present workforce are more than 50 years old, and they are characterised as being highly skilled but poorly qualified. The average age of the decision-makers, he said, is 58.

The issues in our industry are that 60 per cent of vacancies are described as 'hard to fill', with skills shortages accounting for 31 per cent of vacancies. New recruits are needed at all levels: in the next 10 years, said Mr Hooper, 60,000 new entrants will be needed, and they will need more skills.

Although the national pig herd fell by 50 per cent over the last decade, there is still a serious shortage of potential employees.

How to Attract New Employees

"So how can we attract new entrants," asked Mr Hooper?

He highlighted that, generally speaking, an employee's characteristics are affected by their age:

  • The 'Baby Boomers' born between 1946 and 1964 tend to be hard-working, and are motivated by position, perks and prestige. They tend to define themselves by their professional accomplishments, and to be goal-orientated and competitive.
  • 'Generation X' were born between 1965 and 1980. They tend to be individualistic, resourceful and self-sufficient, and value freedom and responsibility, while being disdainful of authority and structured hours. They are technologically adept, flexible and value a work-life balance.
  • 'Generation Y', born since 1981, are the most technically savvy group. They tend to be family-centric, achievement- and team-orientated and to crave attention.

These are generalisations, as Mr Hooper pointed out, but they do help to highlight how today's pig industry may need to adapt to attract future employees.

In surveys, as it turns out, employees are not only interested in the salary. The top five features of a job in one survey were to be treated with respect; interesting work; good communications with co-workers; a feeling of accomplishment and a balance between work and home life.

In all of this, managers matter, said Mr Hooper. The manager's qualities are important in terms of their manner, style and effectiveness. Their behaviour relates directly to employee engagement, job satisfaction and performance. The manager sets the tone and must be seen to meet the company's standards in all aspects.

Becoming an employer of choice, he said, involves offering training and development opportunities; a safe and healthy working environment; positive employee-employer relationships; reasonable job demands; competitive pay and benefits; employee communication and influence; personally rewarding work; job security and thoughtful job design.

"The pig industry can deliver all of those," said Mr Hooper. Batch farrowing and the move to smaller herd sizes help add variety to the work, and many of today's school-leavers want to work with animals.

Keeping Track on How You Are Doing

One way to find out how well you are doing as an employer is to ask workers how much they agree or disagree with 12 statements from a Gallup survey. These are:

  1. I know what is expected from me at work
  2. I have the equipment I need to do my work well
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best, everyday
  4. In the last week, I have received recognition or praise
  5. My supervisor seems to care about me as a person
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my personal development
  7. At work, my opinions count
  8. The purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important
  9. My associates are committed to doing high quality work
  10. I have a 'best friend'at work
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow

Mr Hooper recommends using this list, getting feedback and being prepared to act on what you learn.

Recruitment Strategies

The options include employee referrals, advertisements in the local or farming press, college/university placement offices, third-party recruitment agencies and internet recruiting. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, which need to be assessed before deciding which route to use to fill a particular post.

Retention – Keeping Valued Employees

This does not just happen, said Mr Hooper. You have to plan based on what matters for your employees, and you need to find out why they came (or did not), why they stay and why they leave.

Positive Practices

In closing this section of his presentation, Mr Hooper highlighted 11 positive practices for successful recruitment and retention of staff: induction; integration; good communication; training and development; compensation and benefits; recognition and rewards; performance management; work-life balance; employee communication and participation; manager training and accountability and finally, saying goodbye when an employee leaves.

He highlighted the importance of recognising employees when they have done well by telling them, and that the work-life balance is especially important to today's new entrants to the industry.

Nuffield Experiences

Mr Hooper is the first BPEX and Merial Animal Health-sponsored Nuffield scholar, and he had previously just completed his study on 'The recruitment, training and retention of quality staff in the pig industry', which included a study tour in North America. The report itself had not been published but he was able to summarise some of the lessons he had learned from this experience.

He noted that on one very large farm in the US, management was very professional, yet annual staff turnover was 45 per cent, putting pressure on training capacity. The offer of a generous allowance of free pork to employees was given as a leading reason for existing staff to stay.

The high and growing proportion of employees of Hispanic origin was a striking feature of the US industry. The Hispanic population now accounts for 30 per cent of those entering the workforce, according to the latest statistics, and Mr Hooper identified fluency in English, the option of training in the Spanish language (especially for first-generation migrants) and integration into the community as particularly important for this group.

A successful model for employee satisfaction was a group of family farms specialising in an unusual breed and wit he dual aims of producing the best tasting pork and sustaining hard working families and a rural way of life.

Mr Hooper commented that the National Junior Swine Association offers untapped potential for the pig industry, yet these youngsters tend to be ignored by the industry because they are thought to be interested only in showing pigs.

Study of the Canadian industry highlighted the importance of the so-called colonies. These, of which the Mennonites are a significant group, account for around one quarter of the country's pigs. Their businesses tend to be in a strong position because they are highly self-sufficient. On the other hand, the Canadian pig industry is dependent on exports, and recent unfavourable exchange rates have hit the businesses hard.

Also struggling financially was a small one-man family farm, which had been unfortunate to make the decision to invest heavily based on borrowed capital as the economic crisis hit.

The last farm was part of a very large group, whose pigs were finished in the US. Although it offered a low starting salary, the management style was excellent, there was generous annual leave and a gift certificate for achievement, which were popular with employees.

"In the pig industry, those employers who are able to find and keep valued employees gain the upper hand in an increasingly competitive labour market," Mr Hooper concluded.

Further Reading

- You can read our previous report on this BPEX KT Event by clicking here.

April 2010
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