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Highlights from the 31st Carthage Swine Conference

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There is more emphasis on people and farm staffing than ever before.

Within the last year, the swine industry has certainly faced unusual and unexpected circumstances. Pandemic impacts, supply chain issues, and evolving consumer demands continue to be the new reality, and as always, producers must adapt. PRRS and especially the newly emerging PRRS 144 lineage 1C variant, are very hot topics, however, there is more emphasis on people and farm staffing than ever before as the U.S. swine industry continues to grabble with the labor crisis facing all businesses across the United States.

Recruiting with honest expectations

Recently, at the Carthage Veterinary Service Ltd. Annual Swine Health & Production Conference, key professional swine management leaders Twyla Stevens, Bernardo Andrade Villegas and Nancy Perez Arroyo delivered a series of engaging presentations that highlighted the importance of empowering employees, specifically the TN Visa Network.   

The importance of accurately describing what new employees will be doing in their new positions was heavily emphasized. Recruits want to know what they will be doing and what potential there is for career growth and leadership positions within the organization. Accurate employment descriptions should be factual with clear descriptions of task responsibility.

Ensure that your organization has a clear career path outlined from the technician level all the way through the director of production roles. Employees need to know how they progress through the organization and what goals or milestones are required. Simply put, if you develop and promote people, they will stay with you. It is also important to recognize individual strengths that may be an assent to different programs within an organization including research and other departments.

A roadmap for recruiting international employees was shared with all audience participants. The process begins with virtual interviews conducted by recruiters followed by interviews directly with production personnel they will be working with. After an employment offer is made, the immigration processing begins with scheduling an appointment at a U.S. Embassy. Once the approved Visa is in hand, then travel arrangements can be made for the new employee to travel to the U.S. While this process can be summarized in a few sentences, it can take six months or more for the employee to arrive on farm.   

For those that have limited experience with international recruiting, there are industry services available for agriculture operations looking to consider utilizing visa programs for the first time. The process can rapidly build up your workforce, but the rules and regulations may seem overly burdensome for those not familiar with the process – touch base with our team and we’ll be happy to help you understand our process for international recruiting.

Supporting employee development on farm

Getting employees hired is a huge first step, but we need a trained labor force to execute at a high level on the farm. On-boarding is the process in which you rapidly educate and train new employees, allowing them to be fully deployed in their job responsibilities as soon as possible. The swine industry continues to be innovative in the way that we train and on-board employees. Realizing the shortcomings of putting employees directly on the farms, many organizations have shifted to investing in more intensive training programs that incorporate the great resources developed collaboratively by the industry, such as PQA+ training.

The leader of our on-boarding program, Mel Roth, discussed the importance of having a well-developed and practical educational program that is actively engaging for new employees. A myriad of low- to no-cost tools exist to help develop a program and create visual training material such as video SOPs. As we shift to more Millennial employees within our workforce, take advantage of this generation’s strength with technology, willingness to work in teams, and ability to respond to feedback.

Creating a culture

We have employees hired and trained within our organization, what’s next?

Building a supportive culture.

It is important for the swine industry to recognize that international employees will need social support in addition to their technical training. They are away from friends and family and in a new environment. They are also adjusting to the physical impact of farm work while trying to navigate their new home, new language, new food and new customs.

New team members will need assistance acquiring transportation to travel to farms, finding housing, signing up for utility services, and finding childcare. This is just a short list of new things that they may encounter. Where do I get a phone? How do I get a bank account?  Where can I find a place to live?  The list is endless! These processes are not inherently easy to understand for domestic workers yet alone international workers. Many rural communities may not have easily accessible information regarding how to assess these services. Ensure your company has an outlet for new team members to comfortably ask questions about issues commonly experienced after arriving in a new community in the U.S.  Assigning a “peer coach” to your new employee can give them someone to talk to and learn from, it also ensures that your new employee has a role model for whom you’d like them to learn from.

Create opportunities for employee engagement within the company and within international cohorts. This can be at company picnics, holiday celebrations or other internal events. There is also a growing number of online platforms empowering visa networks. Allowing farm employees to participate in team building activities is also important in connecting the faces behind emails to faces on farms.

Set up off farm trainings or informational sessions that workers may attend to become more immersed in the company. Off-site meetings move the focus to the employee rather than adding on the convenience of an on-farm visit for the trainer. 

Expose new employees to individual success stories in your organization that started in various entry- level positions. All of us started at the bottom of the organizational chart and worked our way up – make sure they understand that and see the opportunities in front of them.  Allow workers to interact with your leaders and inspire the next generation within your company.

While recruiting has long since been the focus of international programs, it is time to shift the focus to retention. Employee development begins on and off of the farm. Let employees know you care about more than their work on farm. Make people your priority and work tirelessly to enable them to succeed – if you develop and promote your people you will retain them, even in today’s highly competitive labor market.

Sources: Claire LeFevre, DVM, Carthage Veterinary Service, who are solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly own the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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