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‘I didn’t sign up for this!’

The new AgriHR Toolkit from the national ag human resources council can help in heading off conflict before it happens

Sad depressed farmer sitting on the tractor.

Many of us have heard it from a disgruntled employee or possibly a family member. Maybe, at some point in our lives, we have even said it ourselves. “I didn’t sign up for this!”

Workers who aren’t the right fit for their job aren’t happy, and they seldom stick around. In fact, 80 per cent of worker turnover is the result of hiring the wrong person.

What went wrong? It may have a lot to do with the hiring process. But in a way that is a good thing, because it means you can fix it.

Providing a well-written job description and asking the right questions during the interview are essential for matching people to the position the farm needs to fill.

A new resource from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) is designed to help. The national organization has just completed a five-year research project to develop a National Agricultural Occupational Framework.

Now online, it offers an AgriHR Toolkit to help guide interviews and prepare job descriptions for labourers, workers, supervisors and managers. The work covers 66 different roles within 16 commodity groups.

This is practical advice based on years of research and field testing with ready-to-use tools and templates. It includes help with writing clear job descriptions that will identify job tasks, duties, and responsibilities, plus help to effectively communicate that information to job applicants.

Detailed job descriptions clarify roles and make it easier to attract qualified candidates and compare their skills and experience to a job’s specific requirements. Job descriptions also help clarify job expectations.

The problem for many farm owners is that it isn’t always easy to prepare a job description for something that’s mostly in their head.

It can often be difficult to define the specific jobs and roles on the farm, says Jade Reeve, Agri Jobs manager with CAHRC. “It’s sometimes really difficult to distinguish, when you’re the one doing it.”

During consultations that led to the National Agricultural Occupational Framework, CAHRC asked farm employers and various experts to weigh in on what is required to be successful in each role.

The resource now released provides tools and information to help farmers both consistently differentiate various jobs on farm operations, and prepare job descriptions for the positions they specifically need to fill.

Job descriptions can take many forms depending on the size and complexity of the operation, but some elements should always be included.

That includes the job title, the position to which the individual reports, and positions that report to them. It also includes key responsibilities. This is the part of a job description that details decisions to be made, levels of authority over staff and financial matters, and types of interactions with customers and the public. A well-written job description also spells out the competencies required, i.e. the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics required to perform the functions of the position.

A third element in a well-developed job description defines specific job conditions, such as physical requirements, schedules and the terms of employment.

Quality job descriptions will help agricultural employers in multiple ways, says Reeve. They communicate information effectively to potential applicants, and the detailed and organized job descriptions make it easier to attract qualified workers because the position tends to be viewed more as a career.

Job descriptions are also particularly useful when recruiting employees in agriculture’s exceedingly tight labour market, because they help produce a compelling job offer, and get people interested and excited about the prospects of the job.

Job descriptions also provide a foundation for other HR activities on your farm such as identifying skill gaps so you know where people need training, and they help establish compensation consistent across your own operation and in line with similar jobs in the external labour market.

Job descriptions are also an opportunity to showcase the farm business, says Reeve.

Job descriptions are certainly valuable for farms where the family members work there, too. They will help more clearly distinguish all the various roles and responsibilities among them. Clearly written job descriptions clarify what everyone is doing already, and can help identify other roles or areas of responsibilities that may need to be covered.

On the farm it can really help to differentiate roles to prevent conflict or expectations not met because something is not clearly defined, says Reeve.

And the bottom line, from a human resource perspective, is that family members are critical to the business and no different than employees.

Being able to clearly detail their roles, tasks, responsibilities and levels of competency can help identify where they need more training and support too. That’s especially helpful for family members mapping out career paths on the farm and looking to take over the business.

The AGRI toolkit has job descriptions available for farm operations in categories including apples, beef, beekeeping, broiler breeder, broiler chicken, crops, finfish, mushroom, potato, sheep, swine, table egg breeder, table egg chicken, turf, turkey and turkey breeding.

And if no job description accurately represents the requirements of a specific job on the farm, the resource provides help conducting a job analysis and to provide the full picture of what’s involved. A job analysis may involve observing workers performing their jobs, having workers fill out logs to track the tasks they perform, interviewing workers about their jobs, and interviewing workers’ supervisors.

CAHRC has also developed interview guides that can be customized for production type and business.

All resources are available through a subscription to the AgriHR Toolkit. More information is found at the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council website.

About the author

Associate editor

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is associate editor with Country Guide. She has also covered agriculture and rural issues since 1995 as a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator and Farmers’ Independent Weekly.

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