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Looking for a Job, Finding the Right Employee

Getting potential employees and employers together can be a challenge. To better understand how producers locate employee prospects and how employees find job opportunities, both were asked how they approach their search.Informal job search networks remain a dominant search strategy for both employers and workers (Table 21). By far the most common method of finding employees for producers is word-of-mouth

Getting potential employees and employers together can be a challenge. To better understand how producers locate employee prospects and how employees find job opportunities, both were asked how they approach their search.

Informal job search networks remain a dominant search strategy for both employers and workers (Table 21). By far the most common method of finding employees for producers is word-of-mouth with nearly half relying on this source. Nearly 70% of workers also rely on word-of-mouth, ranking it second behind magazine or newspaper advertisements as a source of job information for workers.

Family referrals also remain an important source of informal job information for both producers and employees. In 1995, 21.3% of producers used family referrals; now 24.3% do. Employees have become somewhat less inclined to use family referrals. In 1995, 28.2% used them, and now 26.8% do.

In 1990, producers and potential employees were asked if they used college or vocational placement services to find workers; 28.1% indicated they did. In the past two surveys, the question was asked separately for college or vocational placement services. Producer use of these services fell off markedly in 1995 and rebounded slightly in 2000. Employees' reliance on these referral services has remained steady at roughly one-third of all job prospectors.

Producer and employee use of professional placement services fell in 1995 compared to the original survey, then rebounded slightly in 2000. While 14.4% used these services in 1990, only 9.8% used them in 2000. Employee use of these services is generally higher but reflects similar trends across the three surveys.

Help wanted listings in magazines and newspapers ranked high with job candidates. In 1990, almost half used them. In 2000, 80% did. Producers are less fond of magazine and newspaper listings. Only 36.7% used them in 1990 and even fewer, 32.2%, use them now.

A more detailed analysis of responses supported four interesting conclusions:

* Search strategies differ significantly by region. For example, Midwest producers and employees tended to use more formal, public search methods (i.e., placement services, newspaper and magazine advertisements) while their Southeastern counterparts preferred less formal search methods, such as word-of-mouth.

* More-educated producers and employees conducted broader searches by using more of the available search methods.

* Larger operations also conducted broader searches by employing a larger repertoire of search methods.

* Employees tended to conduct slightly broader searches than employers, making greater use of all available search methods.

Producers' success at generating job applicants is better now than in 1990, but it is substantially lower than in 1995. In 1990, producers reported receiving an average of 2.8 applications for each most recent full-time opening (Table 22). This nearly doubled to 5.7 in 1995 but fell to 3.3 applications/opening in 2000.

A similar trend appeared in the number of qualified applicants/opening. Producers reported less than one qualified applicant/vacancy in 1990, 2.2 in 1995 and 1.5 in 2000. The good news is, proportionally, more qualified applicants are available. In 1990, only 28.6% of applicants were considered qualified for the job for which they applied, but now 45.5% of applicants are considered qualified.

The number of weeks it took an employer to fill their last full-time opening is higher now than in 1990 but lower than in 1995. It took less than two weeks to fill a full-time opening in 1990, more than a month in 1995, and just more than three weeks in 2000. Low unemployment rates in the national economy have made it more difficult to fill full-time job openings and to retain employees.

Producers reported that part-time positions are easier to fill, however. The average length of time necessary to fill a part-time job has decreased to 2.1 weeks.

New Technology Pork production is a biologically constrained process. Stock must be bred, followed by a fixed gestation period, farrowing, weaning, growing and finishing.

In some places, technology can speed or improve the process. Artificial insemination can help improve gene pools and extend the use of the best genetics. Early weaning may reduce sows' rebreeding time. Split-sex and phase feeding can target nutritional programs and improve feed efficiency. All-in/all-out (AIAO) and multi-site production can help curb the spread of disease and reduce death loss.

Each of these technologies improves efficiency by either speeding up the production cycle, lowering input cost and/or reducing output loss.

In addition to production technologies, streamlined organization and management can help allocate resources more efficiently.

For example, computers can reduce the time required and improve the accuracy of maintaining production and financial records. Formal employee management practices such as the provision of employee handbooks, written job descriptions, work plans and formal evaluation procedures can help efficiently organize and direct labor resources.

As firm size increases, these practices support the division of labor into specialized areas, thereby improving labor productivity and lowering unit cost of production.

The potential for new technologies to reduce production costs has supported their continued adoption.

Almost half the producers, all sizes of operations, now use artificial insemination (AI) compared to less than one-third in 1995 (Table 23). Nearly 80% of employees report using AI compared to 56.3% just five years ago.

The use of split-sex feeding also has found favor with producers, increasing from 40.7% to 46%. However, the proportion of employees reporting the use of split-sex feeding is virtually unchanged at 46.7%.

Interestingly, producers reported an increase in phase feeding from 55.2% to 59.3%, while employees reported a decrease from 55.2% to 50.8%.

Both employees and employers reported an increase in multi-site production. Producer use rose from 28.4% to 34.6%; employees reported an increase from 38.7% to 47.6%.

Segregated early weaning (SEW) became much more common in the last five years. Producers reported a 166.4% increase in SEW from 12.2% to 32.5%. Employees reported a 95.9% increase from 14.7% to 28.8%.

Variants of medicated early weaning dropped in popularity over the last five years. About 5% of producers and employees used these methods in 2000.

AIAO production was reported by 68.1% of producers - up from 58.6% in 1990. The percentage of employees reporting using AIAO methods was 64.2% in 2000.

The use of formal management practices - such as employee handbooks, written job description, written work plans and formal evaluations - were reported less often (56.9%) by producers. These formal management practices apparently are being applied to a growing share of employees, with 72.6% reporting these methods in 2000. They are most commonly applied in larger enterprises.

Adoption of the various technologies is strongly tied to operation size, although split-sex feeding, phase feeding, segregated early weaning and AIAO appear to be increasingly adopted in smaller operations as well. Artificial insemination also is being used more commonly in smaller operations, although larger operations are approaching complete adoption.

Producer education is positively correlated with the adoption of several technologies, including artificial insemination, split-sex feeding, phase feeding, segregated early weaning and AIAO practices. Years of experience, on the other hand, reduced the reported use of most new technologies. Older producers may not have the same incentive to adopt new methods if they are expecting to phase out of the industry or if they do not expect to pass the operation on to their children.

Over the last 10 years, the personal computer (PC) has become a common tool for recordkeeping, budgeting, planning, purchasing and marketing. PC use has increased dramatically by both producers and employees. The percentage of producers using PCs increased from 40.8% in 1990 to 69.4% today, with 59.1% having some PC training (Table 24). The percentage of employees using PCs rose from 46.2% to 74.5% over the same period, with 51% having been trained to use PCs.

More-educated producers and employees and those on larger operations were significantly more likely to report the use of a PC. Producers in the Midwest and the West were the most likely to use PCs.

The results supported three strong trends:

* Exposure to PCs through education carried over into pork production.

* Experienced producers and employees were less familiar with the benefits of PC use or did not feel that the benefits were worth the cost of learning this new technology.

* Significantly higher use in larger operations indicate greater benefits in PC use.

Some technological advances require few if any special skills to implement. For example, multiple-site production requires little if any additional skill on the part of labor. But, alternatively, PC use or introducing artificial insemination requires special training.

If new technologies require employees to have special skills, then they may command higher compensation for acquiring or being blessed with these special skills.

Using statistical comparisons, it is possible to calculate how much more an employee earns by being able to work with new technologies. When making these statistical comparisons, the only difference between the two employees is the difference in the technologies adopted by their employers. Table 25 shows these statistical comparisons for the earnings of employees working in an operation with and without a specific technology.

For example, an employee working for an operation that uses AI earned 8.5% more on average in 1995 than an identical worker on a farm that did not use AI. By 2000, the wage premium associated with AI use rose to 19.6%. This result suggests that operations that use AI require special skills that are more valuable to employers.

In contrast, wage differentials associated with split-sex feeding and multi-site production are very small. For example, the analysis suggests an employee on a farm using multi-site production earned only a 0.2% wage premium in 1995 and a 1.1% premium in 2000 when compared an identical worker in a single-site operation. Apparently, employees need few, if any, special skills in order to work for operations that use multiple sites or split-sex feeding.

AI, phase feeding, AIAO production, formal management and PC use all seem to require special employee skills. To attract and retain those skills, employers have to pay a wage premium. Consequently, employees working for these operations enjoy higher wages on average.

Part-Time Employment The average number of part-time employees was virtually identical in 1990 and 1995 - 1.6/respondent (Table 26).

In 2000, this number more than doubled to 3.4. The expected number of weekly part-time hours remained consistent across survey years. About 70% work fewer than 20 hours a week, while about a third work less than 10 hours weekly.

The going wage rate is on the rise, however. Only 10.7% earned between $6-$8/hour in 1990, and only 1.2% earned more than $8/hour. In 1995, 40% earned between $6-$8/hour, and 6.6% earned more than $8/hour. By 2000, 50.3% earned between $6-$8/hour, and 26.6% earned more than $8/hour.

Labor as a Resource Producers face the challenge of matching labor needs with the available labor supply. For some needs, labor supply is plentiful and easy to access. Workers can be hired by the day or month. However, as skills become more specialized, the pool of potential qualified workers becomes more scarce. To maintain a consistent supply of quality workers, the producer must invest in training and compensation packages that encourage workers to acquire the needed skills, stay with the farm once trained and remain motivated towork for the farm's profitability.

When labor is available only on a full-time basis, the addition or loss of an employee can have a sizable impact on the operation's labor supply. For some operations, the labor force can be cut in half or doubled by simply adding or releasing one employee. A producer who ignores employee management issues imperils his operation because worker turnover can severely impair the farm's productivity.

Employees in smaller operations may require more general skills because their responsibilities are likely to be more diverse from day-to-day. Employees in larger operations will likely have more specialized skills and a more narrow set of responsibilities.

The pork industry is dynamic in that it enjoys continuing advances in technology. On the employee side, that means the quality and quantity of employees necessary will require some adaptation. Some technologies may increase the need for higher-quality employees but decrease the number of employees needed.

Summary Effective employee management and employee satisfaction are important to the competitive position of a swine production facility. While the industry tends to think of employee management as an issue for larger operations, it is important for all operations regardless of size. Moreover, the swine industry is dynamic with continuing advances in production technology. These changes create the need for flexible employees and ongoing training for producers and employees. These issues were recognized during the industry's expansion in the early 1970s and remain important today.

Cheap labor may prove to be very costly if the labor is not matched well to production needs. In the pork industry, new technologies have been associated with more intensive use of educated workers who have been paid higher wages. As technologies and equipment have become more complex, the associated skills have become more expensive to access.

The pork industry appears to have a solid employee nucleus. The industry is on solid ground with respect to employee satisfaction. Nevertheless, there are some warning signs. Average job tenure has been decreasing. The number of cohorts aged 25-40 who were working in the industry in 1990 has decreased. The pool of young workers entering the industry has been shrinking. Very tight labor markets elsewhere in the economy will make it more difficult to attract and retain new workers into the industry. Nevertheless, thus far producers have been able to find qualified employees within one month on average, so these challenges have not adversely affected the industry to date.

Work environment in pork production facilities had a large impact on job satisfaction. Employees who rated the working environment in hog facilities as excellent were much more likely to report they were very satisfied with the job. The industry is looking at a win-win-win situation here. For many producers, improving the working environment in production facilities can improve pig production performance, dramatically improve employee satisfaction level and improve the ability to retain top line employees.