INSIDE VIEW: Closing the labour gap
November 6, 2023 By Gary Jones
No matter where on the planet you are in the greenhouse industry several key issues are ubiquitous, constant thorns in the side. Energy for example. New pests and diseases. Government rules and regulations. And of course, availability of labour. This was a problem when I started working in a UK garden centre just after the last dinosaur died, and it is still a challenge today this side of the Atlantic.
While labour supply is gradually rising in Canada, demand is rising faster (more people means more demand for food), such that the “projected gap between labour supply and demand continues to narrow.”1 Farm Credit Canada also predicts “the average [labour] vacancy rate goes’ … ‘from 4.7% in 2021 to 5.0% in 2031 for agriculture.”1
Chatting to someone about this recently, the conversation closed on the topic of image. The ‘traditional’ image of horticulture may not provide the ideal sales pitch for new recruits. But when I looked at the themes for this issue of Greenhouse Canada, I was struck by the word ‘labour’. Signing up for ‘labour’ probably doesn’t appeal to most. This is perhaps a good way to shoot ourselves in the foot, but I don’t really have an alternative suggestion. And clearly, neither has anyone else for the past umpteen decades.
But it’s not just recruiting ‘labour’ that is an issue. It seems that finding staff at any level continues to be a challenge. And with recruitment urgency, comes the temptation to hire the first person who comes along. But Janice Goldsborough, HR consultant with The HR Basics in Manitoba, recommends producers take their time with the hiring process. Avoid the urge to hire the first person who comes along and instead, find the right people. “Turnover can be very costly, so taking more time to get the right people on the first try helps farms be more profitable,” Goldsborough says.”2
This may seem like extra effort. So “Here are 5 top recruitment and new hire tips:
- Start with a realistic job description.
- Be ready with questions and ask each candidate the same questions.
- Check references, to determine if someone is suitable for the specific farm and job.
- Sign a contract, including a clear list of duties and key performance indicators.
- Ensure job expectations are clear, e.g. by providing new employees with written vision, mission and strategy statements so they can determine how they fit in to the new job.”2
Once key team members have been hired, another challenge is retention. These days, there are so many career opportunities, and people no longer have a ‘job for life’ worldview. So, having spent significant effort and investment in finding the right people, it is essential to keep those staff on board. I’ve heard it said that ‘people rarely leave their job, but they often leave their boss’. Are you the kind of boss people would choose to leave, rather than stay with? (Maybe you need a second, impartial opinion?) Or have you set up your workplace in a way that makes people give extra effort and enjoy their workplace? Remember that ‘K.P.I.’ doesn’t just mean ‘Key Performance Indicator’: how about ‘Keep People Informed’, or ‘Keep People Involved… or Interested… or Inspired’.3
The point is, treating people as human and as valued members of the team goes a long way to them repaying that with loyalty and rewarding your investment in them. It’s a poor analogy, but in the era of greenhouse robotics, I don’t think even a robot would be considered to perform well if not provided with the right information.
Farm Credit Canada say the bottom line is that “labour challenges are going to persist. And any improvement suggested by these projections is conditional on high population growth and a sustained pace of automation in the industry. The labour shortage in Canada requires a multiprong strategy and innovative solutions for a sustainable and prosperous future of the agri-food industry.”1 Are you equipped for this?
1 Isaac Kwarteng, Senior Economist “Labour market challenges to persist amid recent progress” Farm Credit Canada, 26 Sept 2023.
2 Farm Credit Canada https://www.fcc-fac.ca/en/knowledge/farm-worker-recruitment.
3 LinkedIn post, unfortunately original author unattributed.
Gary Jones sits on several greenhouse industry committees in BC and welcomes comments at email@example.com.
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