The Herdbook Ag Media, LLC

Employee Development in Agribusiness

I don’t think it’s such a secret in corporate America that employees want to be valued and feel like their potential is being used. But much of our workforce doesn’t feel their superiors are necessarily doing that.

According to one survey, opportunities for learning and development is the most important job benefit to 42% of millennials. Less than half of participants in that survey said their workplace offered those adequately. When it comes to agribusiness employee development, how do we feel we’re stacking up?

I get the sense a lot of agribusinesses don’t necessarily consider themselves part of “corporate America” or at least not to the degree of more mainstream Fortune 500 companies. That’s why I think it’s a bit easier to let things like employee satisfaction, retention rates and professional development to fall between the cracks – especially when a certain percentage of employees are doing manual labor. This is unfortunate because it further muddies the waters of upcoming young ag professionals and kills motivation for taking less conventional ag-related career routes.

Treat your ag grad employees well

I don’t just say this because, well technically I still am one. I say it because I am tired of hearing the woes of so many fellow grads and former co-workers become incredibly disenchanted and discouraged – largely because they felt employers weren’t adequately invested in them.

An interesting study from 2018 found many college grads were more miserable in their job placement than their high school counterparts. After investing thousands of dollars in an institution specifically studying a career or interest (assuming it was reasonable and marginally profitable) shouldn’t leave any young person more miserable than before they started. Pay was certainly a big factor in this survey, but flexibility and work-life balance were also high up there as reasons of discontent.

Is part of the reason agriculture is a lesser-sought career field because our college grads don’t have ample opportunity to tell their career tales?

Back in 2016, a Land O’Lakes survey got some attention which found only six percent of participants were interested in agriculture career. A lot of this likely has to do with lack of awareness for what job types are actually available. I can’t help but wonder, is there a reason they are so unaware? Are our ag grads and young ag professionals singing the praises of their newfound professional jobs to their young peers? Are they networking enthusiastically? Heck, are they getting the opportunities to go out and network and promote their fields from their employers? I don’t know that there are any hard stats out there for these questions, but it is something for agribusiness employers to consider.

If you want young people to speak about your company, career field, university or whatever, they need to be invested in and feel like they are growing. Then, they need the opportunity to share their stories. I think we need to see more innovative ideas like the RISE FFA Career Program by Sunrise Cooperative which invests in upcoming young employees as soon as they’re onboarded. This is how agribusiness employee development starts – with the youth!

Development via promotion and growth

According to the Harvard Business Review, one survey of over 400,000 workers found when promotions are handled in an effective manner, employees are two times as likely to give extra effort at their jobs and plan on long-term careers under their employer. I don’t think this data point is mind-blowing, it seems like common sense, but I’m not convinced we’re acting on it as much as we should.

There is something to be said about a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve heard multiple laments “college grads come in and use us as a launchpad for their careers.” But I seldom hear discussion as to why they are doing that. Instead of asking what they can do to be more attractive and retain long-term employment, they shrug their shoulders, assume there’s nothing they can do, and the ugly cycle continues.

I’ve worked for agribusinesses who made little to no differentiation between supervisors and their coworkers via financial compensation, status or other perks. I don’t care if you are working on the farm day to day or in an office, this is not a way to promote nor grow professionalism and confidence.

Remember incentivizing, encouraging and promoting professional development doesn’t necessarily need to be financial.

Likewise, I am a believer in the annual review, and finding non-financial ways to acknowledge and reward employees. But can we please do this in a way that is fair and across the board? If you tell your employees you intend to follow up on their performance and find them additional opportunities, then follow through. There are few things more unprofessional than letting promises fall to the wayside, and it can severely damage your employees’ trust in you as a person and superior.

I remember the excitement of being offered projects and an annual review. I was crushed when only certain employees actually got the review or the projects I so badly wanted. Likewise, when I left, I wasn’t given an exit interview when former employees had. Let’s not do this.

That said, growing an employee can be as simple as giving them the lead on that project or entrusting them to represent your company at a trade show or event. (Here in ag we are very good at these things and a lot of people – young post-college age especially – love them!)

Grow your business, grow your network

Approximately 80% of career professionals believe success can be elevated with networking. It’s safe to say I’m among them!

In light of the recent pandemic, virtual webinars, events and other networking opportunities have come to the forefront thanks to the web. I am enthralled by this. Yes, ag-related trade shows, conferences, meetups and similar events are nothing at all new. But one thing the pandemic has done is force those hesitant to hop onto the online bandwagon, and its great. It also gives a great opportunity to connect similar interests and demographics from all regions into one place to share ideas. 

Want to grow your business? Grow your employees via growing their networks!

If employers want to be vested in employee development, networking opportunities need to at least be made accessible. This could be as simple as hosting a virtual meet up or letting some individuals man a trade show booth. Not only does this boost confidence, it also helps share your company from a different perspective.

There’s also ways you can get involved in a community that shares your interests or career choice all on your own – no need to wait for the boss man to do it for you! I think this discussion deserves its whole own post, but here is a list of my personal recommendations to get you started. Don’t forget to look at your state, regional and college levels. Facebook groups are another great way to start.

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