By Matt Reese
Whether it is a small farm business with a handful of employees or a large corporation with many, human resource management has become a significant issue for Ohio’s agribusinesses.
“This may be the No. 1 challenge for Ohio’s agribusinesses. Every business is a little different and there might be a few issues that rise above human resource issues, but it is a major issue. Not only is it important in filling the positions, but the human resource aspect of business also includes the opioid epidemic and drug issues. As a business, how do you provide the resources for employees to deal with that? What about workers comp claims? How do you make sure you are providing a safe and secure work environment for your employees? There is a whole slew of things our HR professionals deal with on a regular basis,” said Chris Henney, president and CEO of the Ohio AgriBusiness Association. “My hat is off to these HR professionals in these companies across the state working in agriculture every day. They are doing great work and working hard to develop leaders of tomorrow for their companies.”
A significant challenge for businesses in agriculture is finding dependable, qualified employees in the first place.
“There are just not enough folks out there right now to fill the jobs that are necessary in agriculture. On one hand, it is no different than any other business. You want a strong team. You want folks who know their job, have the tools to do their job and execute their jobs very well. We continue to hear from our member companies about the challenges of identifying trained, skilled labor and even finding folks who will show up on time,” Henney said. “But agriculture is unique because our industry is also a culture. Employees have to understand that there will be times of the year where the days are longer than others. There will be jobs that you have to do where you get dirty or wet or hot — that is the nature of agriculture. Our companies want to have the best people they can have. In order to do that they really concentrate on getting good employee benefits in place — they try to compensate well and they try to build a strong team. That is so important in our industry.”
As the number of job opportunities within agribusiness continues to expand, the amount of people with hands-on agricultural experience has declined.
“In the past, our agribusinesses could identify young people who had grown up on a farm and had a certain level of knowledge and understanding about agriculture, and the work ethic, and they would hire them,” Henney said. “With far less than 2% of our American population growing up on farms, and not even all of them going into agriculture, the labor pool is just not there for what we would traditionally call ‘farm kids.’ So how do we find people outside of traditional agriculture and initiate them into the industry and our culture and help them become successful members of the team?”
Introducing agribusiness at a high school level
To help address this challenge, the Ohio AgriBusiness Association’s Agribusiness and Production Systems Certification program provides an industry-recognized, agribusiness credential that verifies high school student expertise in the areas of agriculture, agribusiness and production systems.
“The OABA student credential was conceived as a solution to the growing need for qualified candidates in the agribusiness sector,” Henney said. “Recognition by the Department of Education allows our credential to have greater reach and impact on students across Ohio.”
To be eligible for the program, a student must be enrolled in a career-technical agricultural program and complete three agricultural courses to engage in learning and apply technical skills in foundational agricultural concepts. Additionally, students must complete a course in agriculture business management and maintain a Supervised Agricultural Experience through their FFA chapter.
Outreach through community involvement
Also as a part of reaching out to potential employees, many agribusinesses have become more involved in their local communities.
“It is important to think about how our agricultural companies across Ohio can connect with their community. For example, they can hold an open house where the community can come to see and learn,” Henney said. “Maybe they allow kids to get up in the sprayer and application equipment or demonstrate new technologies for mapping fields and applying nutrients. Little things like that can expose others to the many opportunities in agriculture. We are also working to reach out to those in skilled trades outside of agriculture including welders, plumbers, and electricians.”
Building future leaders
Once employees do join the team, it then becomes crucial to identify future leaders and set them up for success within the agribusiness.
“It is really important that the management team and the human resources staff look and identify employees within their companies today and start working with them to make sure they are aware that they have been identified as a potential leader for tomorrow and help put the opportunities in front of them to help them grow,” Henney said.
OABA’s Leaders Achieving New Career Heights, or LAUNCH program, provides aspiring agribusiness leaders the opportunity to develop thinking styles, management skills and decision making, communication and presentation skills. The LAUNCH program covers global issues in agriculture, sales and marketing principles, Ohio/regional trends in agribusiness, strategic planning, critical thinking, goal setting, organizational skills, and an overview of state and local government.
“Often our companies are hiring people from outside of agriculture with business skills or technical skills. They can teach them about agriculture and help them grow professionally through LAUNCH,” Henney said. “We see a mix of people in the program. Some people have been in agriculture their whole lives and others have come from outside of agriculture. They go through the program to network and learn about agriculture from within the industry.”
Because of the challenges for agribusinesses of all sizes in the area of human resource management, Ohio’s Country Journal is featuring a series this spring and summer highlighting challenges and solutions from around the state.
“There is a lot to be learned. How do we help farms and smaller companies who do not have an HR professional on their team? Many times a farm or business owner is trying to navigate these regulations, hire people, and develop leaders but they don’t have the same resources larger companies have,” Henney said. “I think this series is going to be excellent because they are going to be able to glean from some of these larger companies how they work with employees and how they develop programs.”